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Priya Ragu
Priya wears all clothes and accessories Gucciphotography Paul Kooiker styling Imruh Asha

Priya Ragu is fusing Tamil musical traditions with mass-appeal pop

With a record deal on the horizon, the Swiss-Tamil artist makes a case for second chances and trusting the universe

TextChal RavensPhotographyPaul KooikerStylingImruh Asha

Taken from the Summer 2021 issue of Dazed

“I always knew ‘Good Love 2.0’ was something special because it fuses both worlds,” says Priya Ragu, the Tamil-Swiss rookie whose debut single sets high-gloss hooks against a pounding tabla groove, creating the blueprint for a sound that she and her brother Japhna Gold like to call ‘ragu wavy’. Combining her own love of neo-soul and jazz-inflected hip hop – think Lauryn Hill and Kali Uchis – with producer Gold’s knack for heavy beats and cross-genre experiments, Ragu’s music sounds like a new generation of Tamil diaspora connecting musical traditions to mass-appeal pop. “We were working on the song for the longest time – there was a ‘Good Love 1.0’,” she laughs, but when the second version finally clicked, “we were like, ‘OK, this is going to be our sound.’ Something new happened.”

“When Annie Mac played ‘Good Love 2.0’ on Radio 1 at the start of last year, suddenly “about 20 labels came knocking on my door”, says Ragu. She had planned to self-release her music with no label interference but, when her touring plans were halted, she wondered if she should take it as a sign. At the time, she was on the brink of self-releasing her first album, a dream she’d put everything into chasing by quitting her job and secretly moving to New York to write songs. When the pandemic hit, she wound up back home with her parents for a summer of solitude, long walks and no music, wondering if she should just give up – but, with a spoonful of superstition and a copy of creativity manual The Artist’s Way, Ragu realigned herself with destiny. “When I decided to let go of everything, that’s when I attracted music back into my life again. A record deal, a booking agency, a management company – it all came at the same time.”

“When I decided to let go of everything, that’s when I attracted music back into my life again” – Priya Ragu

A keen interpreter of messages from the universe, Ragu is a late bloomer who senses that her unlikely success must be happening for a reason. It’s hard to disagree. Growing up in the picturesque Swiss town of St Gallen, Ragu once played in a family band featuring her dad on tabla and Gold on keys, memorising Tamil songs and Kollywood hits. Sometimes she would record herself singing in her room, but becoming a musician never seemed possible. Instead she took the parent-pleasing route, getting a job procuring aircraft components and occasionally performing at open mics: “But I just felt like there must be more to life,” she explains. “I was always waiting for the next weekend.”

Eventually, with her 35th birthday on the horizon, she decided it was now or never. She moved to New York with the intention of finding a few cool musicians to hang out with, but instead spent six months indoors, swapping song files with her brother online. Her parents thought she was on a work trip, she laughs. Those months produced “Good Love 2.0” and the rest of her forthcoming debut album, including follow-up single “Chicken Lemon Rice” – a borderless dance jam stuffed with multilingual hooks, beat-flipping rap breakdowns, mobile dial tones and crowd sing-alongs. Dedicating her life to this project must have seemed like a crazy gamble, but, says the now Zurich-based artist, she trusted her intuition: “I felt like the universe was telling me, just do one song and then you will see the results.”