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

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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

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