Blues brother

Musician and actor Raoul Bhaneja looks inward to explore his Indian/Irish ancestry

You may have seen actor Raoul Bhaneja onstage or onscreen, but he’s also the frontman of acclaimed blues band Raoul and the Big Time.

Now he’s finally merging his talents into what he calls “a theatre/concert hybrid.” Life, Death And The Blues is an autobiographical exploration of his Indian/Irish ancestry and his relationship to blues music, told through stories and (mostly) songs. He’ll be accompanied by Juno-winning singer Divine Brown and backed by his trusty Big Time pals.

“The tricky thing about blues is that you normally don’t intellectualize it – you just play it,” says Bhaneja, whose last theatre creation was his hit Shakespeare adaptation Hamlet (Solo).

“This is subject matter that I’m very close to, so it’s weird for me. It’s not like I’m an actor doing a play about the blues [and] did some research and learned a couple of songs. It’s as much a part of my performing life as being an actor.”

Bhaneja was first approached about incorporating his music into a theatre piece by Andy McKim back in 1999, but the question of how to do this has challenged him for more than a decade.

“The play has become far more autobiographical than I ever wanted,” he says. “My whole performing life I’ve resisted doing the ‘Hey I’m a half-Indian, half-Irish guy and here’s my play about the blues.’ I’ve always wanted to be in the business because of what I can do rather than who I am or where I’m from.”

Bhaneja isn’t African American and didn’t grow up in the American South.

“I’m not someone from the roots of blues music,” he says. “I had to look into my own origin story and examine my relationship to music and to black culture. I realized that the only story I can truly be an authority on is my own, and I needed to tell it through the blues.”

Previews September 25-28, opens September 30 and runs to October 19 at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). 416-504-7529. See listing.

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