‘Let Me Explain is for the Pride Movement and LGBT community': Singer-songwriter Rahul Rajkhowa
Hailing from Assam, singer-songwriter Rahul Rajkhowa’s latest song ‘Let Me Explain’ is dedicated to those who fought against Section 377 of Indian Penal Code that criminalised homosexuality. Featuring two women (Sharon Pradhan and Sonam Bhutia) in love, the song that relies on poetry is a tribute to the LGBTQ community. Ahead of his three-city tour with the song, the 23-year-old singer tells us about the inspiration behind the song, why he shot his rap against the Citizenship Amendment Bill on mobile phone and why he pursued a Masters in International Relations even though music has always been close to his heart. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Take us through the journey of your latest song ‘Let Me Explain’. What inspired you to write this song? What genre does it belong to?
Rahul Rajkhowa: Let Me Explain falls into the genre of chill Hip Hop/RNB. Incomplete love stories and love stories that didn’t blossom because restrictions on being yourself are some of the issues that have troubled my mind for a while now. Even though Section 377 has been taken down, Indian society is still not very comfortable with the notion of homosexuality. You can't see it on the surface but it exists and that really bothered me. So, I had to put down a song about hitting back at conservative minds with love and music
Q: It is very soothing unlike your recent raps, was it a conscious effort?
RR: I have always had music like this but I like to take my time with these releases. I was noticing the response on my existing music videos and although they raise some pretty valid questions, a ‘certain’ section was getting really triggered because I have studied in JNU and I am against violence. So, I realised that maybe it's time to release songs that rely more on poetry and soothing music rather than all our rap bars, which directly address issues. Having said so, India is at an extremely exciting period for expressive art, you just can't ignore what's happening!
Q: The rap against Citizenship Amendment Bill, which came out earlier this year, reflects a lot of frustration. How long did it take you to write it down? And, why did you shoot it at home? How has it been received?
RR: I had been wanting to write a song on that issue for a long time but I really didn't expect the government to take it to the Rajya Sabha. The day we got that news, I decided to pen down that song. It took me about a day. I went to my mum and she was proud of me for writing a rap song that addresses our frustrations in rhyming verses. I recorded it at my house because I wanted people to know that if they have an opinion and they believe that the cause is strong, they can do their bit to make people aware very easily. If Rahul Rajkhowa can do it through his front camera, anyone can. Just use your influence for the right reason.
The response was super. Over 70K views on YouTube, over 30K views on Instagram, over 500K views on Facebook and over a million views on Twitter. A lot of political leaders, media houses and influencers shared it on their social media channels. It got a lot of hate too but that's the best part because it tells you that it's hitting the right places.
Q: How important is it for an artist to be aware of political and social issues? Do you ever refrain from voicing your opinion?
RR: No, artists shouldn't refrain at all. If we don't use our influence and art to address issues then it’s all pointless.
Q: You were studying History at St Stephen’s and you followed it with a masters in International Relations from JNU. How did music happen amidst all of this? Also, tell us about your transition from doing covers to original music.
RR: Music has always been close to my heart, I did my first concert when I was 12 years old. But, my parents wanted me to complete my education so that I have a backup plan. About covers, I did them only to make a certain fan base online. Once I had a decent following, I jumped into making original music because I don’t want to be on stage and have people requesting me to sing popular billboard hits or Bollywood songs. I love how they come for my shows and actually request me to sing songs that I have written and how they eagerly look forward to my releases.
Q: Tell us about your meeting with Sudeep Sinha and how instrumental is it in your career?
RR: Meeting Sudeep was definitely instrumental in improving my sound and making me more diverse. Also, my music has reached Los Angeles. Both of us make a gorgeous couple at the studio because he completes me really well. Our tastes are very similar and conversations are even better. He is a friend and a brother before anything else though.
Q: How many albums and singles have you released so far? Tell us about them.
RR: One EP with my band Paperboat and we did a 9-city tour with it. I myself sold physical copies by sending them to our fans with hand-written notes. One EP with Sudeep, which we recorded live and streamed for our viewers. It was done within 15 hours. And, 6 singles with Official Music Videos on YouTube.
Q: What are you up to now?
RR: Going on a 3-city tour with Kitty Su (Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore) to promote my new single dedicated to the Pride Movement and LGBT community in India. We've received a lot of love for that song and I was really glad when Keshav Suri (one of the valiant 5 who fought against section 377) decided to collaborate with me on this.
Rahul is performing at Kitty Su Bangalore on June 29