Raman Negi has the charisma of a cult leader and knows how to work a crowd like a seasoned pro. His former band, The Local Train, was the perfect vehicle for Raman’s raw energy and emotional intensity. Their music spoke to the struggles and frustrations of young people trying to find their place in the world today. He spent long hours in the studio, perfecting every note and lyric, every chord and tune, and he pushed his bandmates to be their best.
They were a tight-knit group, bound together by their love of music and their shared vision for what The Local Train could be. Naturally, it propelled the band to the top of the Indian rock scene. They’ve been playing to packed crowds all over the country, and their music spoke to a generation of young people who were hungry for something real.
Nearly a decade and a half later, Raman has decided to strike out on his own. He released a confident solo album titled Shakhsiyat last November, and has embarked on an India tour. Raman is performing his solo works with producer-bassist Gaurav Chintamani and maverick drummer Shantanu Sudarshan as a power trio. The venues are intimate and the cities span Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, and Kolkata.
There are 10 daringly original songs on Shakhsiyat, which are personal yet grandiose in their themes and guitar-driven sound; all rendered in the guitarist-songster’s own Hindi-Urdu lyrics. “Making albums these days has become a lost art form,” Raman said. “Singles and EPs (short for extended play) are the norm for indie artistes (to showcase original material). There is nothing wrong in it but when you are actually putting yourself out there, getting an album out is really important so the audience gets to know what you’re really about. It gives a holistic picture of musicians, how they produce and play songs. I understand the appeal of singles. I’ve also released four singles as a solo artiste but they were part of a bigger collection,” he adds.
Shakhsiyat translates as ‘personality’ in English, and you see a lot of the vocalist’s personality running through tracks like the rambunctious Koyla, the philosophical Dastaan-e-Shauq, the anthemic Maqbool or the melancholic Gaayab.
“The album title represents me, where I have reached as a musician, as a person. In my solo songwriting, I want to capture this time we’re living in and how I see it. I would like to capture this new age by having characters in my songs. For example, Ek Din is based on a short story I wrote about a guy who paints commercial ads on walls in Delhi. I started chatting with him about politics. Deep down, he wants to make a difference but first, he has a family to feed and that’s all he can think about.
It made me realise how privileged we are, and Ek Din became a rant about couch revolutionaries living in echo chambers.”
From the start of his career with the band, and now as a solo artiste, Raman’s music has managed to have cross-generational appeal, from the Boomers to Gen Z, who may not even speak Urdu. He believes it comes down to the intent. “People will take to any language if it’s honest. Dastaan-e-Shauq is a story that you really want to tell. One day, you meet somebody who’s not ready to buy what you’re selling them.”
He composed it as an Indian folk song about an artiste who’s showing his art in the market. A businessman casually asks him for the price of his hard work but doesn’t seem that interested. ‘Hanske woh naadan pooche, baaton hi baaton mein. Pooche kya hai keemat, tere in khwaabon ki,’ the line goes. The song works on many levels, as a story of one man’s art and another’s commodity, of the anxiety of presenting one’s labour of love to the world, or of the changing value of things depending on who’s point of view you’re looking at. This is the beauty of this tousle-haired rebel’s solo material.
Catch him live on the Mumbai leg on May 25 of the India tour presented by Livebox. He will perform in Chandigarh on May 7, followed by New Delhi and Kolkata.