Abhi//Dijon is a duo, not a solo act. But sometimes listeners can’t tell.
“People still think we’re one person,” says Dijon Duenas, who sings and produces in the R&B group. But actually, says co-producer Abhi Raju, “We’re two different people making music with two different backgrounds.”
Growing up in Maryland, Raju says he mostly listened to Indian music and later, rock. Duenas, meanwhile, found his base in R&B and hip-hop. Together, the pair explore the pensive outer reaches of contemporary R&B music. They’ve been gradually tweaking the formula since their 2013 debut.
Raju and Duenas say they have creative clashes all the time. But those battles don’t make it into the finished product — including on their cohesive new EP, Montana (listen below), where Duenas’ wispy, reflective vocals and Raju’s sumptuous co-production sound like a fated match.
“The thing we share in common is immediacy and warmth,” Duenas says. “Whatever that means to anybody else we can’t say, but… warmth means the same thing musically to both of us. I think that’s the most important thing.”
That warmth began to take shape with “Twelve,” a 2013 track with rhythms you could find on an Aaliyah single. (The duo even brought traces of Aaliyah and producer Timbaland to “Baby Girl,” a song they produced for Talib Kweli’s surprise 2015 release, F— the Money.) Their 2015 EP, Stay Up, remains rooted in their influences, but forges a path toward a more spacious sound.
“For our last EP, we were like, ‘Yo, let’s do everything that we can possibly do,’” Raju recalls. “Now we’re more concise with it.”
On Montana, Duenas’ soft singing melts into sprawling, pulsating instrumentals. The five-track release lingers on fragmented emotions, from pettiness in “Ignore” to wistfulness in “Often.” While Stay Up felt mildly nostalgic, Montana sounds like growth.
What started as a hobby for the two self-described introverts has evolved into an “expressive exercise,” Duenas says.
“We don’t want to get caught in just any wave,” the vocalist says. They aspire to make music that’s as “sonically forward-thinking as possible without overthinking it.”
After Abhi//Dijon took a brief hiatus this year to figure out post-grad life and move from Ellicott City to Los Angeles, where they’re focusing on their craft. A top goal: refine their live show.
Onstage, Duenas says, “I never felt like I was representing myself the way I wanted to.” He struggles with anxiety, and he’s felt hampered by preconceived notions of what an R&B performer should do.
“Dijon’s not Usher,” Raju jokes.
“Seriously,” Duenas agrees. “That was the existential thing because, like, I’m not an R&B dude.” So he’s simply decided to perform more honestly. “It’s more about owning up to who you are,” he says.