Blending jazz with classical Indian

Flute player Raghavendran Rajasekaran and four of his musician friends form Raghajazz, which plays original songs that fit the arrangement and harmonies of jazz, but topped off with Indian classical melodies.
Flute player Raghavendran Rajasekaran and four of his musician friends form Raghajazz, which plays original songs that fit the arrangement and harmonies of jazz, but topped off with Indian classical melodies.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Raghajazz started out almost by accident. Indian flute player Raghavendran Rajasekaran, 29, had taken up a music degree in Lasalle in jazz performance only because the world music specialisation was not offered in his year.

"They couldn't run the programme just for me, so they asked if I wanted to learn jazz and I said okay," recalls Raghavendran, who is better known as Ragha.

"I had to find my way to try and fit in with my jazz modules because it's a completely different instrument. I had to find a voice for my instrument," says the musician, who started playing the Indian flute, or bansuri, when he was 11.

In 2009, he set up Raghajazz with his friends Rachmawathi Lim, 30, on the piano; Lee Jit Seng, 30, on the drums; Kumaran Palaniappan, 38, on the tabla; and Jase Sng, 29, on the bass.

Raghajazz plays original fusion songs by Ragha that fit the arrangement and harmonies of jazz, but topped off with Indian classical melodies.

It was a former Esplanade music programmer who asked Ragha to set up a jazz fusion band to play at the Esplanade concourse. "I said, 'Okay, I can try something', but I didn't know if we could do it," he recalls.

Raghajazz continues to be active, playing at gigs regularly. Last year, it played at music festival Getai Soul at Pearl's Hill City Park alongside other contemporary and multicultural bands.

Ragha hopes that by letting people listen to the bansuri in a way they can relate to, such as through jazz, they will be inspired to learn more about it.

He says: "People are very surprised by what the Indian classical flute can give them - that it can be relevant to them as Singaporeans. The aim is to inspire them to want to find out where it comes from and listen to the original shape of the music."

Breaking new ground with Chinese instruments

Making a loud bang with Malay percussion

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Blending jazz with classical Indian'. Print Edition | Subscribe