Q&A with Raga and Blues
Bay Area–based Raga and Blues brings a jazzy influence to South Asian music.
After performing at Frost Amphitheater last summer as part of the My Bollywood Jukebox production, Bay Area–based band Raga and Blues returns to Stanford Live for a solo concert in Bing Studio on June 4.
Band members Nishant Bordia (vocals) and Abhishek Gupta (guitars and keys) spoke with Stanford Live Magazine about the band's beginnings, the range of music traditions influencing their songs, and more.
Raga and Blues consists of six members and a range of instruments—what is the ensemble’s origin?
Nishant: I met our keyboardist through a common friend, and we ended up jamming at his place a few days later. A few months later, we were approached to play at a restaurant, and that's when we decided to put a name to the band.
Abhishek: I was asked to join the band through our keyboardist as well, whom I have played live with before at different shows over the years. Once I jammed with the band, it seemed like a natural fit, and that was that!
Was there a deciding moment that pushed the group to start performing more consistently across the Bay Area?
Nishant: Although we all have full-time jobs, we share a common passion for good music. I have been performing with various musical groups around the Bay Area, and after performing with many musicians, I realized that Raga and Blues has a unique style of music, quite different from what you would hear from other bands. That was one of those moments when we decided to showcase our work to folks around the Bay Area.
Abhishek: We always wanted to play live as a band, and I personally believe we sound much better with an audience rather than just us playing in a room. Once we started to play a few shows, we got some very positive feedback which encouraged us to keep on doing this. We have been invited to play in different parts of the country and even were invited to play a show in Mexico.
As the name suggests, Raga and Blues combines music traditions and genres. What types of music influence the work the band composes and plays?
Nishant: Our band presents a very unique combination of Bollywood, Sufi, qawwali, and ghazal music blended with Western-style jazz. We get our inspiration from all sorts of musicians around the world, including A.R. Rahman, Jacob Collier, and Shankar Ehsaan Loy, to name a few.
Abhishek: This is what I think makes our band unique. We all have different influences, which you can hear in our live renditions. The band consists of three members who grew up in India and three members who grew up outside of India. I grew up listening to a lot of rock bands—from Pink Floyd to Metallica—and started listening to South Asian music a little later in life. We all try to add elements from our influences into our renditions, and it’s always exciting to see what comes out.
What type of music background or training do you have?
Nishant: I have been singing for almost more than 15 years. I never got formal training until I started taking Indian classical vocal lessons from my gurus here in the Bay Area, India, and Pakistan. I am originally from Rajasthan, India and hold a background in Rajasthani folk music.
Abhishek: I am completely self-taught. I loved music from an early age and picked up a guitar without having a clue of how to play it. With other instruments as well, I’m more self-taught.
The group was part of the My Bollywood Jukebox production that took place at Stanford Live’s Frost Amphitheater in July 2021. How is your next Stanford Live show different from last year’s?
Nishant: This show will be different from My Bollywood Jukebox (MBJ) in terms of the musical presentations we have designed. MBJ was more heavy on Bollywood music and evergreen songs. This show will also revolve around Bollywood music but with a very unique take on each song that we will present.
Abhishek: MBJ was more of a theatrical play with songs played by the band describing a person’s journey through music and dance. In that show we were playing music according to a script and had to arrange it in a way so that the dancers could dance to it. This upcoming show is more intimate and will be more focused on music and how we as a band play songs. There is no script, no narration, no dancers—just music.
How do you view the band’s role within the Bay Area community?
Nishant: Our band performs at all sorts of venues and events around the Bay Area. We do weddings, birthday parties, musical and Sufi nights, etc. Most important, we have connected with NGO’s and foundations for whom we have been performing for the past three to four years. We believe that by doing so, we do our part in supporting the community, regardless of its origin. We donate revenue generated from these shows towards a good cause every year and that is one of the mottos of our band—to support the people in need and make a difference.
Everyone in the group holds a full-time job in other industries. What’s it like balancing your day jobs with performance gigs?
Abhishek: I think our love for music makes it all work. During the pandemic, three of us got married and moved to different parts of the Bay Area, and I also had a kid. But none of it stopped us from playing in the band as we all are so passionate about this. Our spouses and families have been amazing in this journey as they have supported us from the beginning. Since all of us have full time jobs, we mainly do the band stuff at nights or on the weekends. It’s a good thing we are organized and committed, or else I am not sure how this could all work.
Do you have advice for anyone looking to play music live while also holding a day job outside of music or performance spaces?
Nishant: It’s hard to do it, but it’s all about your commitment to your passion. Just like you make time for eating, sleeping, working out, and chores, you have to be dedicated enough to make time for practice and rehearsals.
What do you want the audience to experience while seeing your show in Bing Studio?
Nishant: We want the audience to join us in our journey of exploring familiar songs that we play in our own style. We want the audience to celebrate music with us.
Abhishek: We hope that the audience will see familiar songs from a new perspective. We plan on playing a mix of popular, folk, and qawwalies for this show.
Where else can people listen to your music (online or live in person) after the concert at Stanford Live?
Raga and Blues
Sat, June 4 | 7:00 PM & 9:00 PM