We had a soulful conversation with Swiss-Sri Lankan Artist Priya Ragu about her music, third culture childhood and artistic inspirations . She’s also contributed to our weekly playlist on Spotify
Priya Ragu, How would you describe your music?
Simply said. World Music.
You’re Tamil Sri-Lankan but born and raised in Switzerland. That sounds kind of fun. How’s it been so far?
My parents were in a privileged position to have fled the war in 1979. I was born in Switzerland, my brother in Germany. Growing up between two cultures was not the easiest. Everything was a constant cultural juggling act between the traditions/culture of the country i was born in (Switzerland) and my Roots (Tamil ,Jaffna SL). My parents were super traditional while everywhere outside home wasn’t.
My father introduced me to this whole music world when I was 12, we created a small music band. He played the Tabla, my brother was on the keys and I was singing at Tamil Events.
And to be honest, I didn’t really enjoy it back then, because the songs were out of my range! I had to use my head voice to sing these songs and this was super difficult for me at that age.
That must’ve been nerve-wracking for you..
I don’t know, people thought it was cute. I had the cute factor. I was a kid, couple that with the whole family thing. They knew I never had singing lessons before, so my major sharp/flat notes got excused back then. At the age of 13, I discovered a whole new world: Neo-Soul Music: Lauryn Hill, Brandy, India Arie..I would come home after school, lock myself up in my room and start singing and recording their songs on my little tape recorder. I was missing my parents support back then tbh, because when it came to western music they were trying to prevent me from getting into that lane, since my older brother was already taking that path.
I guess the rebellion started quite early huh? Do you visit Jaffna often?
Actually, not really! Maybe I’ve gone back twice or thrice in my life. But more often, my parents took us to Chennai to visit basically all the temples across South Asia.
What was that like? Did you like going to those temples?
As a kid, it was torture. Getting up at 3 AM, taking a cold shower with not only one but fifteen cockroaches staring at us in the bathroom, and then standing in line for hours at the temple entrance. Now that we are older and have a better understanding of what it really means to visit those temples, we do it cause we really want to. The other day in Goa, we passed by a temple and my brother and I were like “lets stop and go inside, take the blessings and then go.”this would have never happened 15 years ago.
Growing up in Switzerland, in your home, with your parents.. What kind of music did you hear in the background?
Tamil Music. Lots of Tamil. AR Rahman, Deva, MS Vishwanathan and then of course Illayaraja. We grew up with all these Kollywood movies, you know?
So, you’re very familiar with the arts and culture in India and Srilanka, then?
How do you manage having a full-time job and a budding music career?
If the songs are already written, then all I have to do is go to the studio and record it. This I can manage, while working 100% in an office. But, it’s just the process of creating (songwriting) that’s sometimes not manageable entirely.
My brother also helps me out. It’s all about organizing, working with the right people, visualizing. But, when I have to work on the next EP or new album, then for sure I will have to reduce to a part time job.
How would you say your music has changed since your first release?
I would use the word evolve rather than change. We’re not even trying to make it more different. Whatever comes into our mind in that moment, we just transform it. It’s difficult to explain. We don’t want it to be like a particular sound. It’s not like we’re sitting there and are like “Ok, it has to sound like that because marketing wise, people like this more or that more” It’s more organic for us. Even the release – we let the songs choose when they want to be released. I think that’s one of the advantages of not having a label, you know?
You came in to India in March and you put out a really nice video – “Lighthouse”. It was very fun. How did that come together?
Actually, I met Kanika in 2017 in NY and she is such an inspiration to me. I checked out her pictures on Instagram and loved her vibe. Her styling, taste, aesthetic was all so on point and I really wanted to work with her. She said, “Come to India and do a video shoot”. I was like “Sure!! That sounds great.” when we finished putting together lighthouse, I was like… this has to be shot in India. So we linked up with her and a few other girls all through Instagram and it all came together with no hesitance.
The video did pretty well. It was everywhere. Got solid hits on YouTube, Facebook etc. Would you say you’re happy with the response?
Yeah, definitely! When you do music in Switzerland, it’s not so easy to have a reach outside of the country, you know? To see that it reached the UK, parts of India etc, that was really surprising for me actually.
What are some of the Artists you’re currently listening to? If you had to open up Spotify and read some names out, what would they be(in no particular order)
Jesus is King – Kanye West and it is INSANE!
Alai Payuthey..the movie with Madhavan and Baby Shalini
Great! Any new videos you’re putting together that we can look forward to?
Yes. I’m going to drop my next single. The Song is called “Good Love”. I connected with Aneesh Malankar the Director from Bombay on the Gram and we shot the Music Video in Goa. I actually had one of the best times of my life in Goa with this particular crew. What a blessing!
Highs and lows of this amazing journey you started last year?
The Highs, I believe, is just really living the life I always wanted. I feel like, musically, I’m making it happen. This is what it’s all about. Travelling with my brother, creating music, getting to know people, working together, playing these songs live and touching people. What more can I ask for?
Talk to us about the lows of this journey, if any?
I’d say my lows, if any, are financial/monetary. I’m paying for everything on my own. I work 100% and I do this for my art. I’m not sure if that’s a low because it doesn’t feel like I’m wasting my money. I feel like I’m investing in my art! So, I’m gaining either way!
I wish I had more time. But otherwise, I can’t think of any low, to be honest!
We know your brother plays a big role with your music. What’s it like working with him?
He was working on his music for many years. I wasn’t really trying to release any of my music until last year (November). I was looking for other producers and stuff because I thought, you know.. It’s safer not to work with family!! But then, we said, you know what, let’s try it out! The song “Leaf high” came out. It was a huge process because he has his own taste when it comes to music and I have mine. There was a clash until we found the right sound. That was the beginning though. By the time we put together ‘Lighthouse,’ the next song and the next one after that.. we understood each other’s vibe. We found a way! Honestly, I can’t imagine myself not doing music with him in the future!
Here’s a playlist Priya has put together for OTJF. Follow us on Spotify for curated playlists by New Artists every week
Edited by Alina Gufran
Photos Courtesy: No Borders