‘Timeless’ lyrics, reggae roots lead Calgary musician to Bollywood renaissance

Calgary-based recording musician Raghav talks about the recent renaissance of his song "Teri Baaton" on Feb. 19, 2024. Global News

A song that brought a Calgarian fame 20 years ago has been reborn as the title track in a recent Bollywood movie that’s seeing international popularity.

“It was a big hit back in 2003, and it sort of became a cult classic over the last 20 years – not only in India, but in the Indian diaspora, the South Asian diaspora around the world,” said Raghav Mathur, who goes by his first name professionally.

“About two years ago, during COVID, it started trending again and it re-entered the charts.”

Teri Baaton starts with a guitar and syncopated beat that Reggae fans might recognize from Chaka Demus & Pliers’ 1993 hit Murder She Wrote.

“It came to birth because my manager at the time was working with Sly and Robbie,” Raghav said.

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The prolific reggae and dub duo produced Murder She Wrote.

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“I grew up in a very Indian home, and the first melody that came to mind for the track was a Hindi melody,” he said.

But living in Calgary and recently graduating from high school, Raghav didn’t have ready access to top Bollywood or Hindi lyricists. Instead, he turned to his mother for help.

“When I asked her to write the lyrics to the song, she was like, ‘I’ve never really written lyrics before. I’m not sure if this will work.’ And she often describes it as manna from heaven. But, the truth of the matter is that her lyrics have been quite timeless,” Raghav said.

A couple of years ago, film producers from Bollywood approached Raghav to ask about remaking the song for the sci-fi romance film they were planning. The permissions and clearance process took some effort, but it all came together to become the title track for the movie of the same name, whose title translates in English to “My heart got so entangled in your words” and features stars Shahid Kapoor and Kriti Sanon in a duet.

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Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya was released on Feb. 9, and the song rocketed up charts worldwide soon after, Raghav said.

Teri Baaton isn’t the first time Raghav’s work has been on the silver screen, with his Indian film credits dating back to 2011. He’s worked along Grammy- and Golden Globe-award winning A.R. Rahman on projects like Disney’s Million Dollar Arm.

The song that’s experiencing a renaissance wasn’t the only time Raghav used that classic backing track. He also released a song Angel Eyes in 2005, featuring Jucxi & Frankey Maxx and the 1993 loping “riddim” on an English-language track.

In Jamaican dancehall and reggae, a “riddim” is the instrumental accompaniment to a song. In the genre’s history, it’s common to hear a popular riddim to be used in dozens or hundreds of songs, or as part of a live performance.

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One example of a riddim that saw international popularity was 2002’s Diwali riddim, which was used by reggae superstars like Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Buju Banton, but also in Sean Paul’s Get Busy, Rihanna’s Pon de Replay and Missy Elliot’s Pass That Dutch.

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Raghav is departing on a multi-city tour of India in the coming days, the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that he’s been able to visit the country his parents immigrated to Canada from.

And the resurging popularity of a song his mother helped him with is another highlight in Raghav’s 20-year career.

“For her now approaching 80, for her work to be celebrated – I mean, the film industry in India is huge… and it is part of the fabric of everything that happens there,” he said. “For her to be celebrated makes this victory in my career extra special.”

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