New York-based band Rini is set to perform in Chennai with a unique blend of ‘jazztronica’

Fans can expect a taste of their unique Blue Carpet Sessions, where carnatic vocals meets-jazz-meets-hip-hop!
Members of the band Rini
Members of the band Rini

New York based Rini is on her way to Chennai for a show next week. Her last stop: the Grammys. The singer attended as part of The Berklee Indian Ensemble that was nominated for Best Global Performance and from what we hear, had the time of her life. This milestone moment was smack before her band’s tightly packed India tour curated by Quriosity, starting in Chennai, next Friday— where fans can expect a taste of the unique Blue Carpet Sessions — think carnatic vocals meets-jazz-meets-hip-hop. Yes, you read that right. The multicultural band, apart from a Chennai-born Harini (Rini) Raghavan has members from Luxembourg, France and Spain and was last in the city to promote their album Maya in 2018. Rini takes us behind the scenes to jamming sessions where music has no boundaries... kuthu meets Afro beats? Yes please. And soul is at the heart of every composition.

You just got back from the Grammys. What was that like?
It was amazing to be a part of recognising and celebrating music creators — some that were artistes I looked up to and some who were friends!  And it was a great night with the Berklee Indian Ensemble family, though we didn’t win, we felt like we (along with a few others) represented the whole South Asian community in just being nominated. My favourite moments were seeing Encanto win for the music, my friend Clay Ross and his band Ranky Tanky winning their second Grammy and Dwayne Johnson singing You're Welcome — it’s my daughter’s favourite song from Moana.

We have read a lot of genre names online — carnatic meets hip-hop, Indian electronica, Indian jazztronica... What do you call your musical style?
It is very hard to put a label on my music and that’s the reason you see many different impressions from people of what they think it is. Personally, Indian Jazztronica is the closest I would say. Electronica gets misread as DJ and house music sometimes and is too generic and there’s definitely more improvisational elements in my music, both from the jazz idiom and carnatic idiom.

Take us back to carnatic lessons when you were growing up in Chennai.
My grandma taught me my first few lessons before learning from a guru. Initially, it was more the fun of learning together with my brother and cousins, but as I grew up, I really loved performing and learning different ragas and their intricacies. Outside carnatic, like all kids of the ’90s, AR Rahman was a big influence, splashing the scene with Roja and I had a lot of love for pop music from boy bands and girl bands — Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls. I loved the indie music that I saw on MTV — bands like Euphoria, Lucky Ali, Strings — I felt like there was a world beyond film music that was super interesting. 

<em>Harini (Rini) Raghavan</em>
Harini (Rini) Raghavan

Your band has a unique multi-national identity as well, with members who hail from Malaysia to Luxembourg. How did this come to be?
I wanted to always create a project with people bringing in their own styles in an aesthetic way and I just met so many amazing non Indian people who were interested in playing Indian music or contemporary Indian music. So, it felt natural to seek out these folks, create a composition that’s Indian (classical/folk) at the core and then have enough space for them to explore their own styles within this framework. I also feel like over the years, this has become a medium for me to share my culture with people from different cultures and while we go on tours, we talk about our food, our upbringing and culture.

With everyone bringing a different cultural influence to a jam session, what are some behind-the-scenes moments from your rehearsals/composing time that you wouldn’t likely hear elsewhere.
It is indeed very interesting — we have a lot of fun digressing from the music, sometimes to talk about the context of why I/someone sings or plays something a certain way. When we play unison lines, I need to explain to the guitarist how he can emulate my gamakas by breaking it down — one to explain the structure of the raga and other how to create those bends. We all listen in very closely to what others are playing and sometimes surprise each other. Once at a live gig, the guitarist and the bassist did a semitone bend that was not planned at the exact same time and it was such a moment! I think just by playing with each other a lot, we know where the music is going and each time we play it, we add more and more of us into it to make it even better. Once I brought a composition that uses a kuthu groove and my bassist and drummer found a really cool North African line that went really well with it because it’s just the same groove but different context. So, it’s been super invigorating and a pleasure working with people who hear music differently from me and find ways to connect and play together.

You last toured in India five years ago to promote your album Maya. What do you have in store for audiences this time?
Since Maya, I’ve released quite a lot of music and started a series called the Blue Carpet Sessions. The sessions are about being more experimental, exploring different instruments, styles and artistes that I can collaborate with. In 2018 and 2019, a lot of my songs from these sessions were received very well and increased my following  — songs like Mango Showers, The Lost City of Puhar and Rangeela Medley, to name a few. So, most of the setlist for this tour is from the Blue Carpet Sessions and I am excited to finally play it live for the audiences and connect with all the new people who follow our music now.

Are we going to be hearing Magizhini which you recently dropped in New York with Shakthisree Gopalan? 
Shakthi and I met way back in 2017 and always wanted to collaborate. We finally found the opportunity when she moved to NYC for her Masters at Berklee NYC. I took a small idea in the ragam nalinakanthi to Shakthi and she really loved the vibe. We decided to write about the little things in life that give us joy inspired by the Danish word, hygge. We built the composition together from there on and I added in some strings to enhance it. 

Off stage and outside the studio, tell us a little bit about the person behind the voice? 
I have a three-year-old daughter, a six-year-old dog and I love anime! It’s amazing to see the world through my daughter’s eyes and centre myself to focus on what gives me joy. My favourite anime is the super long running One Piece and recently, I have been obsessed with K-Dramas and the Ponniyin Selvan audio book. I have a nickname Maccy among friends because there were just too many Harinis and they found it ridiculous that my favourite food was Mac ’n’ Cheese as a 17-year-old in Chennai in 2003 (most of them had no idea what it was then, haha). I am also a developer — I do some freelance coding because I love logic as much as I love creativity. 

What are you most excited about for 2023?
The India Tour — so excited to connect with audiences in India again! And touring the US with another project I perform with  — American Patchwork Quartet. 

Rini will be performing on February 17 at Barracuda Brew. Tickets at priced at INR 499.

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