Reggae revolutionary, Ska Vengers guitarist and one-third of the Reggae Rajah’s sound system, Raghav “Diggy” Dang is at the forefront of the cultural movement that’s slowly but surely gaining traction in the hearts and minds of Indian music fans across the country. As one of the movement’s pioneers, Dang is at ground zero in India’s reggae revolution.
With the debut album from The Ska Vengers just a little while away, we sat down with “Diggy” to talk about the nascent Indian reggae scene, the new album and, of course, his beloved Les Paul.
You’re the guitar player in a ska and reggae band. How different is that from being in any other kind of band?
Well it depends if the guitarist is a lead or rhythm player. A lead guitarist of a reggae band could very well fit into a blues or jazz solo just like other types of bands, but reggae riffs usually differ in tone. They focus on reverb, delay, muting of strings or even using a wah pedal. And of course, the rhythm guitar is of key importance in a reggae or ska band, as it provides the foundation of the song when tightly locked with the drum and bass.
Everyone knows the great rock guitar players – Clapton, Hendrix, Page, Slash, etc. Tell us about some of reggae’s guitar greats, the legends and icons of reggae guitar.
Bob Marley and Peter Tosh would be the most famous reggae guitar players. Peter Tosh even had a guitar shaped as an M-16 rifle. My favourite guitarists were the ones that mixed punk, ska and reggae, such as Joe Strummer from The Clash, Bradley Nowell from Sublime and Tim Armstrong from Rancid.
Today, there are three big names in Indian reggae and bass culture – The Ska Vengers, your other project the Reggae Rajahs and BassFoundation. Where is Indian reggae today and where do you hope to see it spread?
Indian reggae is in its infancy, but rapidly spreading across the nation. There’s an emergence of reggae/bass-heavy sound systems like Dakta Dub (Monkey Soundsystem) in Hyderabad and Low Rhyderz in Goa. I’ve also been jamming with a third project called The Mob, which is a dub/experimental band focusing on Indian interpretations of original foundation riddims in reggae. I feel the future is bright for the Indian reggae scene, over a few years hopefully more reggae bands, artists and sound systems would emerge.
The Ska Vengers’ album will be the first proper reggae album to emerge out of the simmering cauldron of music that is Indian indie. Tell us about the creative process involved in putting together the album and when it might release.
The album is scheduled to release this summer, no fixed date yet but, yes, I am very excited with the final product and have been looking forward to the release.
The creative process is organic, starting with a simple bass riff by Tony [Tony “Bass” Guinard, Ska Vengers’ bassist] or a melody by Stefan [Kaye, Ska Vengers’ keyboard player] and then the rest of us working out our parts to complement it. Stefan has a lot of experience in arrangements, so he played an important role while the band was recording with the engineer.
Do you have any favourite tracks from the album?
I love them all, so it’s hard to pick a selected few. Although it’s great to hear the final versions of “Rough and Mean,” “Gunshot” and “Bam Intifada” as I remember Tony coming up with these bass lines in my basement a year ago.
You’ve got a fair few shows lined up and of course a tour when the album launches. Are there any special plans for The Ska Vengers’ live show?
The live shows will include tracks from the album, but also a few gems that we have left for future compilations and EPs. We are hoping to switch up the set with each city and gig we play.
You’ve been a long-time Les Paul player. What is it about the Les Paul that makes it ideal for the ska and reggae sound?
The full body tone really brings out the percussive rhythm that’s essential in reggae and ska. Also the buttery finger board makes the Les Paul always a joy to play.
As a guitar player, what's your set-up like – both live and in-studio?
I use a Marshall MG 100FX amp with slight reverb, and a Zoom G2.1u guitar effects pedal for wah, distortion, compression and delay. This is usually my set-up for both live and studio.
Last question – as a flag bearer for all things reggae, dub and ska, what do you have to say to everyone who thinks reggae begins and ends with Bob Marley?
Well, Bob Marley is always a great place to start, but one should not limit one’s self to one style of reggae. There is a whole heap of artists in sub-genres such as ska, rocksteady, dancehall, dub from Jamaica and other parts of the world. Once you start digging in the genre there is no end.
Photo credit: Nupur Mathur