Behind the Scenes of SXSW: Priya Ragu On Owning Your Roots & Musical Inspiration
Although SXSW 2022 has officially ended, we’re still talking about Tamil-Swiss vocalist, songwriter, and producer Priya Ragu’s energy-packed performances! Ragu’s fusion of sultry R&B and hip-hop coupled with the signature sounds of Tamil music makes for an enjoyable, danceable listen that comes even more alive on stage. Last fall, the burgeoning artist unveiled her debut mixtape, damnshestamil, which taps into her Tamil heritage of which her brother and producer Japhna Gold draw much influence. EDITION caught up with Ragu post-performance during the peak of SXSW to discuss the inner workings of her musicianship and how she's gained confidence over the years.
First off, how's your SXSW going?
It's very rewarding. It's also a lot of hard work because we came in two days ago and jetlag and everything. I also have a cold, but I don't want to complain. It's funny because every time I perform, my voice comes back.
You didn’t sound like it! Well, tell me a bit about the influences of your music.
When I was a very young kid, I was very connected to Black music. So, a lot of influences come from artists like Lauryn Hill, Donnie Hathaway, Stevie Wonder. India.Arie and Musiq Soulchild, but I also grew up with Tamil music. My father is also a musician. At home, we listened to a lot of Tamil music, or there was always Tamil music in the car. When I was out, it was R&B soul. So, that's why I somehow put everything into my music.
You can hear all those elements – and I love that. From hip-hop to including your heritage, that is amazing. When I meet certain artists of a different culture, they sometimes don't want to acknowledge that.
Yes, but you know what, back in the days, I was the same. It was not cool to be Tamil. My home was in Switzerland, so I was going to try to adapt to the majority there. Then, I was kind of hiding my background and not embracing it. But the older I got, I was trying to find who I really was, and I embraced it.
So, what helps you to embrace that and feel comfortable in your skin?
I'm not sure what it is. I guess it also comes from the Black woman. Growing up, you see them be very proud of their background and being a voice for other women. So, that's really inspiring. I think I initially got it from there. Then, also the Tamil music. I was always feeling connected to it. So, that part of the culture I always embraced, even when I was a kid.
Do you have a particular song that you just love to perform live more than others?
Yes, I love performing “Lockdown.” It’s very energetic and keeps the people moving. There’s a part where I'm having this moment with the guitar player, and I think it's very powerful.
That's awesome. So, I was told by your manager that you have a few more performances here. But, then, you're headed to New York. So, if you've been to New York before, what's the feeling and vibe there?
I've never played a show in New York. I’ve been to New York. It’s sold out, and I cannot believe it. I'm an artist from Switzerland. Being able to play a show in New York, I’m like, ‘Who's going to know me in New York?’
Yeah! The show has sold out, and it's like, ‘Oh my god!’ I'm so grateful.
How long have you been making music?
Professionally? Two years.
That’s amazing! So, is there any dream collaborator or producer you would love to work with?
No. The thing is, I love a lot of artists, but I don't have the urge or need to get the studio with them. If it happens organically, we get to know each other, and then it’s fine. But for me, I'm doing music with my brother. He's a producer. To me, that’s a legacy I don’t want to leave behind.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.