Priya Ragu Is Taking Her Destiny Into Her Own Hands [Q&A]
Priya Ragu's unique take on R&B is otherworldly, simultaneously calling to mind her far-flung roots and a vision that spans genres and cultures. Born and raised in Switzerland after her parents escaped the Sri Lankan civil war in the early '80s, Priya's initial music excursions occurred under the cover of night, covertly listening to Western pop music and pursuing her own budding passion. All this and more leads us to the release of Priya's debut EP, damnshetamil, a deft exploration of self, culture, and the limitless, universal language of R&B.
Over the course of ten spellbinding tracks, damnshetamil paints the portrait of an R&B artist more than capable of balancing ethereal grace with impactful poise, all while never sacrificing the historical foundations that shaped her. It is a collection of music informed very much by the genreless present but inspired by the Tamil music that served as her introduction point to the expansive world of music.
We had the opportunity to chat with Priya about her debut project, retaining her Tamil roots, and taking her destiny into her own hands.
Ones to Watch: Who is Priya Ragu? Is Priya the artist different from the individual? If so, how?
Priya Ragu: In person, I feel that I'm more of shy character. When I'm on stage performing, I get a different kind of energy and courage.
So, what does damnshetamil mean to you, especially in terms of musical expression.
damnshestamil is about me taking my destiny into my own hands and owning and embracing my heritage. It's a nod to my musical roots and background.
You described this mixtape as "pure and sacred." How so, and what does it mean for you to put this into the world?
It feels like I was meant to do this, it was always within me. It's super exciting to have it out in the world. It's been a long time coming, and I can't wait for everyone to hear it.
Your parents were refugees of civil strife in their native home of Sri Lanka, how did their experiences affect your upbringing and by extension your music?
My parents always made sure we didn't forget where we came from. We watched loads of Tamil films and listened to Tamil music all the time. That influence has definitely remained in my music. They made sure that the Tamil connection remained strong and that feeds into my music constantly.
Did choosing your own path as a creative feel more difficult because of your family? Or did it give you more resolve?
It was difficult to do this and take this path, otherwise it wouldn't have taken so much time. I've had to build up self-confidence over time and find my own sound which inevitably took time.
How did you link with OTW favorite Oddisee?
This was at the Jazz café. He had a show which I went to see. I just walked in not knowing who he was, and I was simply blown away. The rest is history.
There is an explosion of third culture music now, are you comfortable with that category? Is that categorization meaningful to you?
I'm just making music that is true to me. I think it's great that there is so much musical fusion occurring at the moment, and I think this should be celebrated.
What do you hope your audience will take away from this mixtape?
I want people to connect with it and enjoy it!
Who is inspiring you right now?
Deepak Chopra. His books and teachings about meditation and yoga help me to stay grounded.
Who are your Ones to Watch?
Cleo Soul, Emir Taha, Pa Salieu.
damnshetamil is available everywhere you can stream it.