5 Questions with Raoul Bhaneja

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Harvest and TNB have teamed up to bring Bhaneja and his hit stage production Life, Death and the Blues to the city as part of this year’s festival.

Raoul Bhaneja by Claire Binks
Raoul Bhaneja photo by Claire Binks.

Raoul Bhaneja is a Gemini nominated actor and a Maple Blues Award winning musician making his Harvest debut this year.  He will be in Fredericton performing his theatre/blues mash-up, Life, Death and the Blues, a one-of-a-kind hybrid performance co-presented by Harvest Jazz and Blues and Theatre New Brunswick.

We caught up with Raoul to get his thoughts on how his show has evolved over the past year of national performances, and to get his take on Fredericton and our fall season pride and joy, the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival.

How would you describe Life, Death and the Blues to someone who isn’t familiar with experiencing live theatre?

It’s a play and a concert mixed together.  It’s a combination of story and song but it gets to use the power of theatrical presentation (lighting design, projection, costumes) in a way that a show in a club (or a tent) can’t quite do.  Also I think for people who love the blues, it’s cool to find out more about where the music comes from and why people like us chose to dedicate our lives to performing it.  I’m also interested in talking about issues around culture, race and some other things that you don’t really have room for when you are in a bar playing blues.  The theatre is a great place for conversation and groove, I have discovered.

Will this be your first time performing Life, Death and the Blues as part of a music festival?

Yes, this is a really interesting coming together of the worlds for me as I’m excited to also be performing with my band Raoul and The Big Time for the first time at Harvest Jazz and Blues as well as touring Life, Death and The Blues to Fredericton.  It will be really great to see how it works in this kind of environment.  It’s a bit of a challenge logistically but it will be worth it.  It’s also given us access to fantastic guest performers, blues legends as well.

How important is it to have guest musicians included in each performance of Life, Death and the Blues?

We have an amazing cast/house band coming out to Fredericton which I feel really lucky about.  I’m joined by fellow Raoul and The Big Time member Tom Bona (from Halifax originally) on the drums and Chris Banks (Alex Pangman) on upright bass along with Jake Chisholm on guitar and vocals who is a really skilled blues specialist and a great entertainer in his own right.  The trump card is Juno award winner Divine Brown who is one of the most gifted singers I have ever worked with and a fine actor as well.  That core group that joins me on stage is worth the price of admission but on top of that we will be joined by three different legendary blues performers at our three different performances: Eden Brent of Mississippi, Billy Branch of Chicago and Matt Minglewood of Cape Breton.  Having “real” blues legends join us on stage towards the end of the show for a jam and short interview really brings the show full circle from a play to a concert.

How have you seen the show evolve since it first premiered in 2014?

Well, I’m always making small adjustments to the script each time I get back to it.  As the world changes and as the ideas in the play evolve, I have the chance to go back and make revisions.  It drives everyone kind of nuts but it helps keep the world relevant and also allows us to make it better, which is the whole point of the exercise for me.  That is one luxury of being the playwright and one of the performers as well.  I get a chance to go back to the work.  We’ve been touring the play so that also allows you to see how it reflects differently in different places. This will be our Atlantic Canada debut which is also really exciting for us.

What excites you the most about your upcoming visit to Fredericton?

About ten years ago I was shooting a TV movie called Open Heart in Saint John, NB and I drove up on an off day to check out Harvest Jazz and Blues as I had heard so much about it.  I got to see a lot of music and sit in with some of my friends in the blues from across the country, and from that time on I’ve wanted to come back and do it up right.  It takes a while sometimes for these things to come together but I’m really thrilled to be getting to the festival with two projects I’m really proud of.  It will also be great to connect with many of my friends from all over again… after a decade I know a few more!

Life, Death and the Blues | September 17-18, 2015 | Fredericton Playhouse | Buy Tickets

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