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A Chat with 23-year-old Singer-Songwriter, Actor, and Activist Rahul Rajkhowa from Assam

 

To be a talented singer and  an entertainer is a blessing for an individual, and to use these talents for a greater cause can be a blessing for many. 23-year-old singer-songwriter Rahul Rajkhowa from Assam is an inspiring young artist, who has already created nationwide news and impact for his hometown, through his music. His music video “The Floods” which highlights the devastating effects of the Assam Floods, got him his first solo feature on Rolling Stone magazine India, national news coverage on NDTV and honored by ‘Twitter India’ as the Youth ambassador for using social media to bring positive change. 

This charming musician started his musical journey when he was just 12, as a band member in school. Later when he moved to Delhi for college, he started playing with his seniors at St. Stephen’s College, and very soon he had already put together his own band “Paperboat” – with whom he has toured around the country. He is also a blooming actor, and have acted alongside Rishi Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Ayushman Khuranna in Bollywood movie ‘Beewakoofiyan.’ He also has a short film releasing this year. So much in just 23 years! Let’s get to know him more.

We sat down with Rahul Rajkhowa to talk about his music, the Assam Flood music video that hit national headlines, and his upcoming projects.

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Photo : Rahul Rajkhowa

  • Hello Rahul, please introduce yourself.

Hi, my name is Rahul Rajkhowa from Guwahati, Assam. I am a 23-year-old singer, songwriter, actor, and activist. I completed BA History from St.Stephen’s college and Masters from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. I also sing and play the lead guitars for a band called Paperboat.

  • So how did you get into music?

I studied in Assam Valley school and those days, annual Rock concerts were a big thing so I grew up watching my seniors play to songs by Metallica, Simple plan, Nickleback etc. I remember this one time I was walking back to my hostel after the concert and I just wanted to be on that stage with thousands of people singing to the lyrics of my song someday and not just the popular covers that the seniors were singing. By the time I was 12 years old, I learned the guitar on my own, formed a band “The K-Reactives” which survived till we all passed out of school. I continued my musical pursuit even in my new campus in Delhi, where I joined my seniors’ band as a guitarist, and later formed my own band.

  • How did you finally made the shift from being a part of a school band to a professional musician?

While I was in St Stephens College, I got lucky when my seniors took me as a guitarist for their performances. That’s when I got a lot of support from people around me. Plus the fact that seniors are often seen as ‘cool’ and ‘popular’ in college, helped me in getting recognition as well 🙂 The college concerts used to be incredibly fun and without a doubt, they were a stepping stone to my career as a musician. I was also part of the acapella choir which was another prestigious affair in college and honestly, that helped me expand my vocal range.

Rahul rocking the stage with his guitar moves at their college fest in St. Stephen’s College, Delhi – way back in 2016.

“During my final year of college, I started ‘Paperboat’ with my friends and that was perhaps, the best phase of my music in all those years. We come from different parts of India with the same passion for music and we ended up getting immense love from different colleges around Delhi. It fuelled my passion for music even more, and that is when I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”

Rahul Rajkhowa (3rd from right) with his ‘Paperboat’ bandmates

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Rahul Rajkhowa (3rd from right) with his ‘Paperboat’ bandmates

Ever since I finished my Masters last year, I’ve been touring and performing music full time. I’ve covered about 23 cities so far both solo and band together and it has been one of the best decisions of my life. I get to travel, spread good vibes, play songs to new audiences who sing along to the lyrics of my songs, dance to them and I get paid to do it. It’s definitely the most satisfying feeling ever!

  • Growing up in Northeast where music is a huge part of the culture out there, how have your roots influenced your style of music and songwriting?

Well yes, it goes without saying that my musical journey owes its origination to my roots and my family. My mother, sister, and cousin sisters are all classically trained singers. My dad used to play in a Bolly-Rock band during his college days. I guess the type of music I make takes inspiration from people, places around me.

“Growing up, I was always environmentally conscious and was aware of the social issues back home. So most of the songs that I write are related or influenced by them”

Rahul Rajkhowa performing at Folklane Park in Aizawl

A post shared by Rahul Rajkhowa (@rahulrajkhowa) on

  • What’s your creative philosophy – and where do you get inspiration from?

My inspiration mainly comes from blues artists of the 70s that addressed apartheid and working-class struggles in their songs like B.B King, Albert Collins, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Chuck Berry and  Eric Clapton to name a few. I also draw inspiration from Kendrick Lamar, Joey Badass, Jermaine Cole, Kanye West, John Mayer, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran.

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Photo: Rahul Rajkhowa

  • We hear you do some acting too! Fill us in 🙂

I was a regular at the annual productions during my high school years and that carried throughout college which also won me the Best actor award. During the first year of college, I was cast to play alongside Veteran actor Rishi Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Ayushman Khuranna in ‘Beewakoofiyan’ and even though it was a small screen time, it was a lot of fun!

Two years later, Ayushman’s ex-manager cast me for a role in a musical by filmmaker Sudhish Kamath. The short film “Side A Side B” is a live musical shot in 5 long takes on a train ride between Guwahati and Mumbai. It only has 3 actors : the heroine, a cat and me. The film is scheduled for a release in India, later this year.

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Rahul Rajkhowa with Ayushmann Khurrana

  • What do you want people to take away from your music?

I hope that I can make a difference to bridge the gap in social issues and leave a message that the power to make the world a better place rests in our hands. There is so much to write and talk about and I believe our education system has been misconstructed into thinking that we should only focus on getting the perfect report cards, clearing entrance exams, getting a corporate job, meeting deadlines while remaining oblivious to what’s happening around us. Not that these things don’t matter at all, but to me, what is more important is to be a good human being – above everything.

“I want to make a difference and bring about positive impact in whatever little I can contribute. Hence I started addressing social issues, mental health, domestic abuse and environmental concerns because I want to sensitize my generation to the humane side of being a part of this earth. The fact that  I make my music groovy/catchy helps me to get my message across to the younger crowd.

Moreover, as a musician, I feel the social responsibility to convey a strong positive message to my listeners – as well as entertain. I want listeners to catch the lyrics, dance and sing on repeat – and also catch the purpose behind the song, and pass them along.”

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Rahul Rajkhowa shooting for his music video for “The Floods” in Assam

  • You were also the Youth ambassador by ‘Twitter India’ for using social media to bring positive change. Tell us more.

Yes, it was a proud moment for me. It all started with my music video “The Flood A little about that song and the video: Every year, my home state of Assam would be affected badly by floods – which would lakhs of people homeless, thousands of hectares of land uncultivable, hundreds of people dead and sick, and create havoc on the wildlife.

“I was quite worried by the floods, but even more frustrated that there was no national media coverage; it was treated as any normal event which happened every year in Assam. I didn’t want to just sit back and be unhappy about the whole situation; I wanted to do something in my capacity to create awareness. So my roommate from boarding school (who is also the videographer ) and I traveled to 6 villages including the town of Lakhimpur, which was one of the worst-hit place.”

We started out by carrying our own donation boxes and the journey ended up with NGOs contacting us, also a designer from Delhi who was generous enough to design merchandise based on the theme of the song. All proceeds from the sales was donated to the flood victims. While creating this music video, we spent a considerable amount of time with the flood victims and it was truly a humbling experience. I realized I wanted to do more for my people through music.

Rahul Rajkhowa shooting for his music video for his single “The Floods” with kids from the flood-affected village in Assam

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Rahul Rajkhowa shooting for his music video for his single “The Floods”

  • Tell us about your latest projects?

We are working on our latest song which is all about celebrating your body irrespective of your shape, size ,colour, and learning to love yourself. I am also working on a second India tour with Trapnation Producer Sudeep Sinha which starts from September 2018. I also hope to bring a lot more of the actor side in me in future.

Watch Rahul Rajkhowa’s latest music video “REASON” and Enjoy! Also follow him on Instagram and subscribe to his Youtube channel.

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