Rocking the raaga!
What happens when a group of musicalminded professionals get together? They set up a tune ‘factory’ that belts out industrial-strength concerts, founder Jyoti Karmali tells Shiva Kumar Thekkepat
B y dayday, Sharanjeet wears a suit and is busy managing his family’s transport business in Dubai, while his friend, Shashwat Kumar, thinks of new ways to market engineering goods. Their buddy, Rohit Gupta, manages his clients’ financial portfolios, while Rohit’s brother, Arup Gupta, analyses market data for his business consultancy job.
But come evening, these professionals slip into jeans and tees and, along with six others who all hold full-time jobs in the UAE, morph into Raaga Factory – or Raaga Rockers, as DubaiDubai-based businessperson and founder of the band, Jyoti Karmali, prefers to term them.
“We are all so different on the surface, but a passion for music brought us together,” says Jyoti, who, along with nutritionist, Mitun de Sarkar, founded the band last year.
Comprising 10 talented people coming from all different walks of life, Raaga Factory performs around eight times a year in venues across Dubai – including The Q Underground at the Holiday Inn, Al Barsha.
“All the members have jobs that are diverse and hardly related to music,” says Jyoti. “Neel Patkar works events at
introduced him to music. “My late father, Akhlaq Ahmad, used to sing playback for films in Pakistan,” he says. “So music was constantly playing or being discussed in our house. I guess it just seeped into me.”
He chose the bass guitar and initially went the pop-rock route, before teaming up with the Raaga Factory, where he now plays soulful melodies.
For Jyoti, putting together the band was the culmination of a dream. “Though I don’t sing or play any instruments, music has been very close to my core since my childhood, and when I met Mitun, our fire to start something here with music got ignited,” she says.
“We met through a friend and pretty soon realised we shared the same enthusiasm and passion for music. We promptly decided to create a platform, which was going to be fun, creative and contribute to the community at large.”
Enthusiasm is one thing, but putting
‘We are all so different on the surface, but a passion for music brought us together’
the JamJar [art gallery], while Naveen Raj is a cloud finance officer who helps entrepreneurs get funds. Afaq Ahmad is a production manager at a radio station, while Mitin Chakroborty is a marketing professional and Hari Sreedhar is a businessman.
“Although they have such varied backgrounds, they come together harmoniously to make lovely music.”
Music truly is the one thread that binds these 10 individuals together.
Afaq, 31, says it was his father who together a musical team of professional calibre is quite another, the two soon realised. “During all our meetings, we would talk about putting together a band of talented musicians,” says Jyoti.
Then one evening, while discussing music at her home on the Palm Jumeirah, Jyoti had an idea: “How about going through our friends, finding people who are interested in music and getting them together?” she said.
Mitun agreed at once. “I knew several friends who love music and could play an instrument so we began to create a list,” she says.
It took some sifting through their talented musician friends to find the right mix. “We did not want to include professional musicians because the idea was that it should be a not-for-profit group,” says Jyoti.
“It is definitely a passion-driven initiative and it was never a for-profit venture. We are happy we now have 10 talented people. If along the journey RF does turn into a for-profit venture, nothing could be better!”
For Mitun, 35, it was more than mere enthusiasm that saw her team up with Jyoti to launch the group. A vocalist, she’s performed on stage on several occasions. “I used to sing with my father from the age of five,” she says. “He was a trained singer and used to encourage me to sing ghazals, soulful songs, romantic numbers right from that age. He used to record them and we would hear them and laugh because I almost always used to get the lyrics wrong. In fact I still go haywire with my lyrics!”
Growing up, she sang at school and college functions and used to win awards regularly.
“It was such a high for me at the time. But eventually when it came to choosing a career, I opted for dietetics
and nutrition. While music was my passion, I did not want to rely on it totally – I wanted a proper career.
“But my passion for music continued. Now, 15 years later, I want to take up music seriously, and my parents are overjoyed to know I am following my first love,” she says.
While Raaga means tune, Factory does seem odd for a creative music group. But Jyoti says, “It’s an attempt to tastefully blend melodies – one of the main USPs of Raaga Factory is that any song that goes into RF comes out rearranged with creativity at its best. The band, with their musical expertise, put in all their efforts to come up with soulful sounds, hence the term Factory.”
The band does cover versions as well as remixing popular songs by adding Naveen and Mitun are (all vocalists), Mitin (drums-percussionist), Neel (lead guitarist) and Afaq are not classically trained, but play with passion. Hari Sreedhar is the lone flautist.
“Raaga Factory gives me scope to explore various forms of Indian and Sufi music on one platform,” says Rohit. “Be it the golden oldies in a jazzed-up version or a simple acoustic feeling of the contemporaries, the twist factor in our music keeps me going.”
The passion that they all talk about is perhaps because all of them are established in their fields and not looking to break into the music world professionally. While all of them say they would appreciate an opportunity to do something aligned to their personal interest sometimes, they are not looking to perform outside the Raaga orbit.
“The RF Rockers are well-established professionals and Raaga Factory helps to enhance their lives with a whole lot of exposure name and fame,” says Jyoti. “But having said that, nothing is impossible and you never know, Raaga Factory could one day definitely be the sole source of income for the artists.”
However, for some the opportunity to just indulge in their passions is gift enough. “The Raaga Factory to me is a great opportunity to jam and create newer sounds with some amazing musicians in Dubai,” says Mitin.
“I was five or six when I began playing a mini drum kit, and the passion for music has remained ever since.
“I did not pursue music as a profession but I’ve been playing
‘The Raaga Factory is a great opportunity to jam with some amazing musicians in Dubai’
their special touches – such as blending Indian raagas with Western tunes.
“Our evenings are for both the musically inclined and the musically challenged to explore different genres and create new harmonies – a fusion of old and new, West and East, of melodies and percussion,” says Jyoti.
“They are a unique musical experience with a twist for those seeking fun times with friends surrounded by inspiring music.”
Brothers Arup (vocalist-harmonist) and Rohit (vocalist-pianist-music arranger), come from a family of musicians and took to the stage as children, while Sharanjeet, Shashwat, regularly. It’s a great way to unwind, especially after a long day at work.
“It’s also about finding company, especially for someone like me who’s just moved into this city. The people, the music, the talent – it’s been an extremely satisfying experience so far.
“A few years from now… I have no clue. I’d probably be building a few more brands as a marketeer and still hopefully playing for Raaga Factory, with the same gang and with the same passion that unites us.”
During one of their performances in Al Barsha Despite diverse backgrounds, they work in harmony producing music
The group perform regularly in Dubai
Jyoti (right) with Mitun – the founders of Raaga Factory