Today’s Song: Priya Ragu’s Colorful, Tamil-Infused R&B Single “Chicken Lemon Rice”

Priya Ragu © Shaun James Grant
Priya Ragu © Shaun James Grant
Tamil-Swiss R&B artist Priya Ragu brings Tamil “twang” to her latest single, the infectious “Chicken Lemon Rice.”
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Stream: “Chicken Lemon Rice” – Priya Ragu

Priya Ragu makes R&B. But with its swirling and colorful mix of influences, it’s not like any R&B you’ve heard before. Raised by refugees of the Sri Lankan civil war in Switzerland, Ragu and her brother Japhna Gold were not encouraged to pursue music – Ragu did anyway, seeking any opportunity to perform and record. The eventual result was her debut single, “Good Love 2.0.” The song was the perfect launching pad to introduce Ragu: her smooth and soulful vocals glide atop a groovy R&B beat, produced by her brother. The track covers the familiar ground of the genre — lyrics about being young, reckless, and in love. Except at the nearly two minute mark, the beat shifts to one found more frequently in different styles of Indian music. Tabla drums reverberate under Ragu’s gorgeous harmonies as the song comes to a close.

Priya Ragu - Chicken Lemon Rice
Priya Ragu – Chicken Lemon Rice

For Ragu, building on the combined influences of her childhood favorites and her culture was the most exciting path forward. Already, her statement as an artist is clear. Following on the success of “Good Love 2.0,” Ragu introduced the world to “Chicken Lemon Rice” (out February 5, 2021 via Warner Records). Just as infectious and danceable as “Good Love 2.0,” the first verse of “Chicken Lemon Rice” finds Ragu showing off her rapping ability over an African-inspired beat and referencing various aspects of Tamil culture.

Oh you like it, when I sizzle like that
This takata is a riddim like that
Saraswathi force, win ting like that 
Brown skin tone, peng ting like that

The chorus arrives with a declaration and a question: “When we dance, we gon’ move the sun / Can we dance even in the fall?” In other words, movement itself will move us forward, even when the world is crumbling apart around us. Japhna Gold, who cowrote and produced the track, said of the song: “Now more than ever, it is so important that we hold on to things that make us happy. Dancing is meditation, singing is meditation. We are all are connected whether we like it or not.”

Cuz when we dance we gon move the sun
Can we dance even in the fall ye ye
For the love we’ve ever known
For the love we’ve ever known
Can we dance even in the fall ye ye

The dish itself — chicken lemon rice — isn’t a real recipe.

But Ragu wants listeners to know that “’Chicken Lemon Rice’ is a celebration of unity and diversity. It’s here to commemorate all the beautiful cultures of the world.” It’s a joyous shout — about mixing things in fresh ways, looking at the world like the beautiful melting pot it is.

Read on for an exclusive Q+A with Ragu.

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:: stream/purchase “Chicken Lemon Rice” here ::
Stream: “Chicken Lemon Rice” – Priya Ragu


Atwood Magazine: As a child of diaspora, can you talk about why including Tamil culture into your music is important to you?

PRIYA RAGU: In my music, visuals, or style, there will be a touch of where I come from. I just want to motivate other young brown women and men to listen to their inner voice in order to see the bigger picture and believe in themselves. There should be way more brown people out there doing this, what I do right now.

Tell me about the specific references to Tamil culture in “Chicken Lemon Rice.”

PRIYA RAGU: Me and my brother Japhna Gold wrote the song. We sprinkled that Tamil twang on it: Saraswathi force, the Indian Goddess of knowledge, wisdom, art, and music; matchi means buddy, a way of addressing your homie; and terrukuttu is a Tamil street theatre.

What is the significance of the food itself to this song?

PRIYA RAGU: The song isn’t really about the dish itself, but more how we have thrown the words together and come up with a dish that doesn’t exist. Some cooks follow recipes very precisely and then there are others that like to cook by heart and put their own spin into it and come up with a new creation. That’s what we have done with this song by fusing African rhythms together with Indian Talas.

Priya Ragu © Shaun James Grant
Priya Ragu © Shaun James Grant

You've said this song is about unity. Can you elaborate on that?

PRIYA RAGU: It’s here to commemorate all the beautiful cultures of the world. We can come together and still be ourselves whilst celebrating different heritages and learn from each other.

As an artist who just debuted, what are you most excited about?

PRIYA RAGU: Every day I get to do the thing that I love the most, which is creating music with my brother. I’d say that is the best part of this journey.

What kind of influences have you distilled into your music?

PRIYA RAGU: At a young age, I was drawn to R&B and soul, with my earliest inspirations including Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, and Brandy. But I also draw from the music of my childhood: A.R. Rahman and Tamil movie soundtracks.

If you had a thesis as an artist, what would it be?

PRIYA RAGU: Create what you want to see.

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:: stream/purchase “Chicken Lemon Rice” here ::
Stream: “Chicken Lemon Rice” – Priya Ragu

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