A classically trained musician, this Raleigh DJ infuses dance parties with global influences.
by Ilina Ewen
On the surface, there’s a disconnect between Ranganathan Rajaram’s history and his current trajectory. Classically trained as a violinist, he’s better known around here as DJ Rang — a man who gets the party started at weddings and corporate events, spinning everything from pop to Bhangra to reggaeton.
But to Rang, there’s no schism. “If you have musical theory background and experience playing in orchestras, that diverse knowledge of music applies to any style that you find yourself in,” he says. “Indian music styles mix with each other, but there’s a huge cross-audience and cross-genre appeal when you mix it with other styles.”
Born in Queens, New York, Rang grew up in Cary, the son of immigrants from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Despite the very American upbringing, his childhood was immersed in Indian culture; there were always Bollywood tracks and Indian classical tunes playing at home. Rang started playing the violin at age 4 through the Suzuki method, and has dabbled in piano, drums, guitar, and a variety of Indian instruments, including the dhol, a double-headed drum. His talents won him spots in the youth philharmonic and state orchestra, as well as the South Indian Carnatic classical musical scene.
It was at one of these recitals that he realized that the sound system needed a boost. Rang asked his dad to drive him to Best Buy for some speakers, a microphone, and some lights. Within months — and with the help of YouTube — his sound tech services evolved into deejaying the entire soundtrack to various events. “Being classically trained is a natural fit for deejaying,” says Rang. “I’m looking at things like beat structure, tempo, key, or mixing, and all those things are second nature to me. I just piece two songs together.”
What makes Rang unique, especially in the Triangle, is his ability to blend American pop and dance tracks with music from a broad range of cultures. “DJ Rang represents everything that I love about the New South,” says North Carolina state senator Jay Chaudhuri, who recently worked with Rang on a block party. “His music runs the gamut, and he spins at Black, brown, and white cross-cultural events. He comfortably dances in a lot of circles in the Triangle — and there ain’t a whole lot of people who can do that.”
Rang’s initial following was the South Asian Desi crowd on Triangle college campuses, but over the past 15 years, he’s performed all over the world, and for institutions like the NCMA, PBS, and BET. His music has fueled luxury weddings, Diwali celebrations, Dishoom (an international gathering complete with choreography lessons), and his own super-secret, underground dance parties. As he deejays, he reads the crowd to mix the vinyl that vibes: classical meets Cardi B., Bollywood blends with salsa blends with ‘90s hip-hop. His setup is a work of art, with turntables, colored lights, and video building a multi-sensory experience.
“It’s phenomenal — Rang is calm and collected and brings a great sense of humor to a set, too,” says Shai Tamari, associate director of the University of North Carolina Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, which enlisted Rang to accompany a concert by Omar Offendum, a Syrian-American hip-hop artist.
“Everyone raved about the music DJ Rang played for Diwali at Dix Park. He kept everyone energized, and it was so fun to see people of all ages and backgrounds dancing around the parking lot to music they probably hadn’t heard before,” says Trey Roberts, manager of community engagement at Dix Park Conservancy.
Rang shares his talents with aspiring DJs, serving up cultural pride along with technical tips. “Rang has been a frequent guest at our ‘The Art and Culture of the DJ’ class, demonstrating techniques, discussing entrepreneurship, and teaching students the basics of scratching and mixing,” says Mark Katz, the John P. Barker distinguished professor of music at UNC. “He’s a natural and the students love him. He’s not just talented and successful, he’s a thoughtful, decent, and hilarious dude.”
With his deft hands at the turntable, DJ Rang’s sets are a reminder that art is indeed what brings us together: whether it’s something familiar or entirely new, we’re all united in bopping our heads and swaying our hips when the right beat hits. “There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing people of all ages getting into the groove,” says Rang. “I love bringing everyone to the dance floor.”
This article was originally published in the February 2022 issue of WALTER magazine