Calgary-raised international pop superstar Raghav talks mentors, roots and confidence

Raghav was born in Toronto but raised in Calgary, at a time when he had no interest in exploring his Indian roots.

His distinctive sound has elements of Bollywood, Hindi, hip hop and R&B

Raghav performs at Mount Royal University on Wednesday evening and there's a fresh album coming out in the spring. (@raghavworldwide/Twitter)

Raghav Mathur was urged to write a song that was simple.

"My mentor said, 'Make a simple record that really highlights the simplicity of your writing and some vocals,' so I wrote Fire begrudgingly," the singer-songwriter simply known as Raghav, told Daybreak Alberta this weekend.

"I was like, 'This is as simple as it gets, I am going to take fire and rhyme it with higher, I'm going to say it over and over again and watch this bomb.'"

That was almost six years ago and the track did really well in Canada.

Today, the 35-year-old has experienced international success on a massive scale.

Raghav was born in Toronto but raised in Calgary, at a time when he had no interest in exploring his Indian roots.

"I grew up in Calgary in a home where my parents are East Indian and Calgary was obsessed with country music and I loved hip hop and R&B," Raghav said.

"Somewhere in the hallway of that home is where my sound was created."

"Growing up in Calgary I always kind of distanced myself from the Indian heritage because I thought it wasn't very cool. When I went to high school there was five of us, we all nodded at each other and acknowledged to never acknowledge that we were Indian to anybody else," Raghav said.

That all changed when he crossed the pond after graduation.

Indian culture mainstreamed

"I knew the only thing I was ever good at was making music. I just thought it would never be Indian at all," he said.

"When I moved to England after high school it was amazing because it was the perfect time. In the U.K. there was a big show called Goodness Gracious Me, which was massive on the BBC. I saw how much they welcomed Indian culture into mainstream life and I thought, 'Well this could be really cool, let me try and incorporate some of my knowledge of old Bollywood stuff and my Hindi vocal stuff and bring it into the music that I love, and that's the hybrid sound that gave me a career."

He later found himself in India, where his unique sound resonated with music fans. A lot.

"My first album is the sixth biggest selling album of all time in India," Raghav said.

The music business model in India is different from North America, he said.

"You have to believe in your record because no one else is going to believe in it. I saw folks get much bigger deals than I did, never put out a single, never put out a record, never put out a demo. You just have to believe in yourself enough that you are willing to put your own money where your mouth is, into your own music, and let other people follow."

Neil MacGonigill a mentor, friend

Raghav continues to return to India several times a year.

"I think I have spent half my life there for the last decade. It has made my tummy far stronger than it would have been had I not gone there."

He says he's grateful to have crossed paths with some talented people.

"One guy who is really important to me is a local guy, Neil MacGonigill. He is just a great guy. He managed Jann Arden for a lot of years. When I came back to Canada, he got me my first record deal. He has meant a lot to me, he has always been honest with me. He is a huge mentor in my life."

Raghav will perform at the Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal University Wednesday evening and he's got a new album coming out in the spring.

As to what he learned from writing a simple but catchy song like Fire?

"It taught me a lot of things," Raghav said.

"In terms of live, energy always wins. In terms of writing, we can outsmart ourselves and we don't look that smart when we try to act it. Now when I talk to people, I say let's be simple. We can still be simple and sophisticated at the same time."


With files from Daybreak Alberta