'One of the best singer-songwriters Canada has' receives tribute show in his hometown of Prince George

Prince George's Raghu Lokanathan is "one of those songwriters who musicians respect," the late humourist and broadcaster Stuart McLean once said, and, on Dec. 2, musicians in his hometown will be paying tribute to the contributions he's made to Canada's songwriting canon.

Raghu Lokanathan may not be a household name but he has a dedicated fanbase, including the late Stuart McLean

In the words of the late Stuart McLean, Prince George's Raghu Lokanathan is 'one of those songwriters musicians respect.' (CFUR Radio)

Prince George's Raghu Lokanathan is "one of those songwriters who musicians respect," the late humourist and broadcaster Stuart McLean once said, and, on Dec. 2, musicians in his hometown will be paying tribute to the contributions he's made to Canadian songwriting.

"As a songwriter, he has a lot more going on than, I think, anyone else in the country," said musician Jeremy Stewart, the organizer of Caledonia Sings! The Raghu Lokanathan Songbook. The event features 10 musicians interpreting their favourite Lokanathan songs from his output over the past two decades.

Caledonia Sings! pays tribute to the songs of Raghu Lokanathan (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Though he may not be a household name, Lokanathan has a dedicated following, particularly among other songwriters.

"Raghu's songs strike a beautiful balance between the detailed and specific elements that you really need to make a story true, and some of the more open, broader, more poetic ideas," Stewart said.

Drummer Danny Bell, who performs with Lokanathan in the group Frontal Lobotomy, had similar praise.

"He doesn't write from a place of being up in the clouds. He clearly listens to people and the stories they tell him, and often he interprets them in an interesting way and makes them into songs," he explained.

"He's the type of guy you could just meet and wind up sharing something personal with him."

Lokanathan has built up a devoted following of fans across the country through performances at small shows and folk festivals. (Steph St. Laurent)

Lokanathan's fans aren't limited to Prince George. When Toronto's Corin Raymond recorded an album focused on covering lesser-known Canadian tunes, Lokanathan was his top choice.

"Someday, I'm gonna record an entire album of songs by Raghu Lokanathan," Raymond wrote. "He's one of the best singer-songwriters Canada has, and he just happens to be my favourite." 

Likewise, when Stuart McLean was invited to bring his CBC program The Vinyl Cafe to Prince George for the city's 100th anniversary celebrations, he knew Lokanathan had to be included. 

He tells stories with music and often those stories are surprising.- Stuart McLean

"When talks turn to songwriting in the back of Vinyl Cafe bus, it is inevitable that his name will come out," McLean told his audience in the arena and on the radio.

"He writes about stuff that not everyone writes about, and his songs say something. He tells stories with music, and, often, those stories are surprising."

Lokanathan performed Caledonia, a song McLean said "could be about a woman, or could also be about Prince George. It's about loving someone or something that at first glance isn't easy to love. It's about sticking around long enough to see the best in someone or someplace. And, to me, anyway, it's about the subtle beauty that often only reveals itself when you're ready to see it."

Recently, Lokanathan has been more focused on other creative pursuits, including a guerilla performance piece at the local Denny's and a one-act play based on unused song ideas.

However, he still performs regularly in Prince George in folk, rock and jazz groups and even at open mic nights. He said being the subject of a tribute show was both surprising and gratifying.

"One of the things I worry most about myself is that I'm not very useful," he said.

"It's really lovely to feel that you've done something that has meaning and value to other people."

With files from Jordan Tucker


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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George.