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Raghu Dixit, Brighton Dome Concert Hall, June 24
Raghu Dixit has an infectious laugh. When he cracks into a chuckle the worries of the world seem to disappear.
Little wonder the Queen asked the Indian singer-songwriter to her Jubilee celebrations at Windsor Castle to join a bill with Joss Stone and Il Divo.
“She was very charming,” remembers Dixit of meeting Her Majesty.
“The twinkle in her eyes when she smiled was disarming. She thanked both me and my wife for coming all the way from India to perform, which was very sweet of her.”
Dixit’s own charisma comes from his joyful spirit. Behind the energy is the hope and colour and vibrancy of his homeland.
He says he was blessed to be invited to perform for the Queen.
“It is one of those experiences which I will convert into a legendary story and tell my grandchildren.”
While the TV audience might have been his biggest ever, back in India he sings to crowds of 150,000 people.
“A lot of people know my songs word by word in India so I make them all sing together. That is what is beautiful about playing to larger crowds.
“We are divided by so many castes and religions, but when you bring a crowd together all the boundaries are dissolved for that one moment.
“I wish the whole world could live like that every single day, despite all the differences between us. Just being there and feeling the happiness of being alive.”
Yes, a little cheesy but the words are of a man whose gambles have borne fruit.
Like many lower-middle-class Indian families, his parents had educational ambitions for their son – he was to take medicine.
He passed his college studies and may possibly be the only musician with a Masters in microbiology.
Cementing his individuality, he is perhaps the only self-taught indie-pop singer who is a master of Indian classical dance.
“I have a huge belly, which helps,” he roars. “But I don’t really dance any more. I did compensate by marrying a dancer.”
India’s highest-selling non-Bollywood artist (Bollywood discs sell 20 million, Dixit might sell 100,000) grew up in a traditional and conservative family in Karnataka, in southern India.
“Carnatic classical music was a strong force at home, with my mum always listening to it on the transistor. I was pushed into learning classical dance aged eight and I practiced until I was 23.
“Because of dance I have had music with me all of my life.”
At college he learnt discipline and diligence.
He also taught himself to play the guitar and discovered artists from the Western world – from Wham! and Phil Collins to Iron Maiden and Metallica – by swapping tapes with student friends.
“When I was 19 a classmate who used to play the guitar and sing English songs made fun of me. He said it was very effeminate of me to pursue classical dance, which is wrongly misunderstood to be pursued only by women.
“I said give me two months and I shall play that stupid guitar of yours and sing some stupid English songs which have no inner meaning and are so superficial and blah blah blah...
“Nevertheless, I took the challenge seriously, and in those two months I did learn to play a few chords and a song in English.
“I also discovered my voice and the joy of taking in thin air and throwing it out in the form of a song, when your whole body vibrates when you sing it out.
“It caught all my senses and gripped me so much I could not let go of it.”
For eight years he fronted Antaragni. Now he leads the The Raghu Dixit Project, who played on Jools Holland in 2009. After the performance, his debut record on Wrasse Records (Amadou & Mariam, Tinariwen) topped iTunes World Chart.
He has written music for Bollywood and Kannada films.
Recently, he was invited to Basement Jaxx’s studio.
“That was a phenomenal accident. I had no idea why they asked me there. I got there and Felix said, ‘Why else would we ask you here other than to sing!’ “They played me some crazy loops and I managed to write a few words and make a melody. I haven’t heard what happened but it was a crazy few hours.”
Dixit sings in English, Hindi and Kannada. Many songs from his new EP, Unplugged In York, borrow fables from ancient Kannada poets such as Saint Shishunala Sharif.
“His lyrics are simple, funny, quirky,” explains Dixit. “He sets out complex philosophies about life that can be understood by anyone.
“His humour and satire has such amazing relevance – these are songs that carry messages people today should grasp.”
He explains non-English numbers so the audience can “assimilate” the experience.
He puts his success down to, among other things, the internet.
“It took almost seven years for me to convince somebody to put my album out.
“It was a challenge in that the Indian soundscape starts and ends with Bollywood. There was absolutely no outlet for my kind of music or independent music until recently.
“It was only once the internet boom happened in India and people realised the power of internet.
“Computers used to be a luxury and now they are a necessity.”
The beauty is Dixit can access his audience directly without a middle man.
“There is no marketing gloss. You are what you are and you show your audience and, if they like you, they might tell ten other people.” Raghu Dixit plays a double headline show with The Imagined Village
* Starts 7.15pm, £18/£15. Call 01273 709709