Prior to performing as part of President Donald Trump’s inaugural concert on Thursday (Jan. 19), RaviDrums already had a few major gigs under his belt — the drummer/DJ contributed to the Slumdog Millionaire performance at the 2009 Oscars, and he did a Super Bowl-related show in 2008.
But playing at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial the day before Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States certainly gave the Mohawk-sporting drummer more attention than he’s ever received before — and not all of it positive. After so many artists publicly turned down Trump’s inaugural, the artists who did agree to the gig have been criticized for contributing to a celebration of the politically and morally divisive figure.
The day after his performance, and just hours after Trump was sworn in, RaviDrums got on the phone with Billboard to talk about his difficult decision to play the inauguration and why his immigrant father’s approval ultimately helped him feel confident that he made the right choice.
Before I ask about the inauguration details, one housekeeping thing: Were you paid for this gig? I know sometimes inaugural performers aren’t.
They’re all different. I got paid for this because it was a bunch of expenses. Shipping, hotel rooms, the dancers, etc.
When did they reach out to you with the offer to play?
Right before Christmas.
Was it an easy yes for you or did you think about it a long time?
It took a lot of considering. My political views were clearly in a different area. Last year was a brutal year for artists. The campaign was unlike anything America had seen before and the country was so divided. I have a song called “Peace and Love” and one called “When We’re Together” and “Shine Like the Sun.” These are all super positive songs about people coming together through music, and I thought, ‘man that’s what the world needs.’ I honestly believe music is healing. Music and food are the two things that can really bring people together, and that’s what I wanted to do.
My songs are tuned to the 528 [Hz] healing love frequency. Some of the biggest acts on earth — Beatles, Pink Floyd — tuned their music to 528. Most music is 8440 [Hz], but when you tune to 528 it’s the love frequency, the healing frequency, the frequency of the sun, and it promotes healing. I know that sounds very metaphysical, but it’s true. There’s a frequency to everything, and I believe it can help.
Also, I was the only one on stage that looked like me. I thought there would be better value of having someone who looked like me as opposed to staying invisible.
How did the crowd react to you? Did they seem into it? It’s always hard to tell watching on a TV.
They were really into it. I thought I offered something different than everyone else on stage. The response was tremendous. I wasn’t sure who would be there and what their musical preferences were — if it was more Americana or one type of audience — but it wasn’t as much of one thing as I expected. There was more diversity there than I anticipated and I liked that.
After all these other musicians publicly turned down Trump for months, did you worry it was risky to go against that tide?
Absolutely. I had many friends begging or advising me to boycott. I even got offers of far more [money] to boycott. But if I put my word down, I do it. I was raised on hard work and ideals and the deep appreciation of America. So I wanted to celebrate that.
I’m happy I did it, I truly am. It’s just strange. I grew up in Florida and in California. All my California friends had one opinion, all my Florida friends had another opinion, and everyone wanted a way in, that’s for sure.
My father came to America with $8, no shoes and a one-way ticket from India. He had nothing. He came here for the pursuit of the America dream. And he got to watch his son perform at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. When I was little it was “I want a hamburger, pizza,” and when he was a kid, it was like, “We just wanted food or water.” They were that poor. So I asked my father immediately [about the offer] and he thought it was a great honor. He’s 80. He’s not gonna get to see me do it again. So you’re goddamn right I did it.
And he cried. It was beautiful. And my son got to come there, too, so I shared it with three proud generations of America. I was mainly there to show America isn’t made mainly of one color. There are a thousand skin tones of the America that is today and we all need to be recognized. And it was very hard, I’m not saying it wasn’t, but I’m happy I did it and I stand by it.
Did you get to meet with any of the other performers or Trump himself?
I didn’t get to meet [Trump], he was down in another section, but I’m sure he would have been very nice. I met Lee Greenwood, he was super cool, and the guys from 3 Doors Down were cool. It was a humbling experience. When you’re standing there looking at the Lincoln Memorial it makes you proud to be an American. It’s all of our differences that make us great and who we are. I met so many military guys and they were so cool. They fought, lived and died so we’d have the privilege to have this discourse.
For people who think you shouldn’t have done the performance because of your politics, or because of who Trump is, what would you say to them?
My response is my father came here with $8 and a one-way ticket and the pursuit of the American dream and he got to see his son play on the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. That is so beyond measure. As a kid you dream, “I want to play Wembley, Madison Square Garden, Budokan” — you don’t even dream of playing Lincoln Memorial. When I was a kid playing Metallica covers in a tree house, playing on the Mall was never even a thought. And I got to do it with my dad and son there. Whose right is it for anyone to tell me I can’t play for the American people? How is that right?
After playing the inaugural concert, are you feeling and more hopeful about America’s future or Trump’s presidency?
I am, because, look — he was smart enough to get Elon Musk on his advisory committee. Elon Musk is my ultimate hero. If I could grow up again and be anything, it would be Elon Musk. Elon Musk is the greatest human of our time I think. [Trump] even said, “Hey I think climate change, man has an impact.” And I think he’s going to be good for the economy. And if he’s good for the economy, hopefully we can make more green products and it’s good for everyone.
Climate change is probably the scariest issue for the long-term future, in my opinion.
That’s the most important thing for me, honestly.