Mixing jazz and classical records overlaid with beats and rapped vocals, the unique sounds of The Raah Project evolved from Tamil Rogeon’s and Ryan Ritchie’s on-stage improvisations in their other band, True Live. Tamil and Ryan now perform with a big band. With Ritchie on vocals and Rogeon on violin, both conduct an orchestra to produce a compellingly bold sound in its own mixed musical genre.

As part of the World Music Festival over the weekend, The Raah Project previewed a show they will be performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre in December. We caught up with Ritchie for a chat about what he’s been doing since he saw Portishead live in New York years ago.

CC: How did the Raah Project begin?

RR: Tamil and I were improvising on samplers using the music of other artists – Herbie Hancock, Charles Ives, Stravinski, Miles Davis, etc – and mixing that with beats and my voice and his violin. Then we thought ‘hey we could probably write our own stuff and get in the studio and make something completely original’.

How many members are there in total?

There were over 40 players on the album; there are 18 in the live band. But the two of us write and produce it all.

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What are their musical disciplines?

Well, string players are usually classically trained and have less of a jazz sensibility but everyone else is a jazz musician.

Do you all travel together when you tour?

Yes, it’s a rare and enjoyable thing. Sometimes Tamil and I pick up the band at our destination, but we have toured enough as an 18-piece group to enjoy it.

As a hybrid of jazz, rap and orchestral music, where do you draw your influences?

Shawn Carter, Kanye West, Nas, Miles, Dizzy, Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, King TUbby, Igor Stravinski.

Do you find this appeals to a wider audience because you cover so many genres of music?

Yes, but usually people are drawn to the song and performance rather than the genre, though genre heads also get into it.

Who is your audience?

People who enjoy what we do, which seems to be a broader selection of the community that I would have anticipated; orchestral fans and hip-hop heads coming together in support of art.

You were originally a rap artist. Did you ever think you would perform on stage with a large band like this?

This was originally what I wanted to do ever since I saw Portishead live NYC.

Is True Live still performing?

Yes but more regularly in France than at home.

What's on the horizons for The Raah Project in 2011?

The future for The Raah Project is going to be developing the show into a small ensemble thing, a quintet using samplers and improvising musicians. We are touring nationally and overseas as well as working on some remixes. We also have our second album due for release during the middle of 2011. But the real exciting thing at the moment is Tamil's new electro acoustic Brazilian orchestral work 24 hours in Lapa. It's a travel log written as a contemporary opera on the death of an American tourist in Rio De Janeiro.

The Raah Project play at the Melbourne Recital Centre on December 11.