Bombay Native Reveals His Sitar Power in Rock

by Michael Snyder
Date Book - Lively Arts Section

LOCAL TRANDOIDS making the scene at the I-Beams's Monday concert series tomorrow night should prepare for some heavy culture shock Ashwin Batish, a sitar playing Bombay native who relocated to Santa Cruz in 1973, will be the opening act for the electic, psychdelic band, Camper Van Beethoven.

An enterprising fellow with eight years of schooling in England, Batish, 35, started his own independent record label after he moved to the United States. Needless to say, Batish Records didn't attract much attention with its eight album catalog of classical Indian music until Batish recorded and released an LP called "Sitar Power."As implied by the song titles "Bombay Boogie," "Casbah Shuffle," "Raga Rock," and "New Delhi Vce," "Sitar Power" is a wild fusion of traditional Indian music and rock.

The "Sitar Power" album was preceded by a single of "Bombay Boogie," which attracted enough music industry attention to inspire Batish to compose, arrange and record an LP's worth of material. Batish's use of high-tech electronic drum sequences made "Bombay Boogie" a natural for dance clubs, and Bay Area DJs like KUSF's David Bassin and the I-Beams's Alan Robinson were quick to program the tracks.

Now, Batish is starting to perform at rock clubs on sitar- the gourd-shaped Indian lute that master sitarist Ravi Shankar introduced to the United States in the '60s - and tabla - the bongo-like Indian hand drums.

"I'll be playing live to pre-recorded backing tapes at the I-Beam." said Batish, the Indian lilt to his voice unmistakable over the phone. It's a showcase for me to promote the "Sitar Power" album. I'd prefer to have a band with me, because I like the interplay with live musicians." He hopes to have a band together for a show at Nightbreak late in July or early August, "I'll need at least six musicians, keyboards, percussion, bass, horns, and guitar. My songs are pretty intricate."

Batish's passion for the sitar and classical Indian music comes from his father, "My father was a singer who worked on soundtracks for Indian movies, " he said. "He also played many instruments and taught me the sitar. He was involved in producing the background music for the Beatles'movie 'Help' so I've had an interest in rock music since I was very young."

When Batish moved to Santa Cruz, his awareness of rock grew. "I listened to a lot of pop radio here," he said "I liked the Motown sound, with its pulsating melody lines. The big kick drum and bass sound of music in the dance halls here was missing in Indian music. I'd go out to dance halls and think that I'd really like to hear a sitar coming out of the speakers, too. It was my dream to have people listening and dancing to sitar music."

Meanwhile, Batish and his family weren't getting much airplay for the classical Indian music they were recording on Batish Records, (His father and sister are the label's prize vocalists, and he's the main instrumentalist.)

"I thought it would be great to record something upbeat, so I came out with 'Bombay Boogie,' he said. I played sitar, tabla, a Yamaha DX9 keyboard, a drum synthesizer, bass and 12-string guitar. The hardest part was editing myself down from the long classical form, where a single piece of music can be 40 or 50 minutes in length."

"After 'Bombay Boogie' got dance floor play, I decided to go further into the dance music style and record a whole album. A track like 'New Delhi Vice' uses dance music techniques like a long drum intro and rhythm breaks, It's more suited to dance floors."

He may be a longtime resident of Santa Cruz, but Batish said that he never heard of surf music before recording "Bombay Boogie," which bears a suspicious resemblance to "Pipeline," the vintage surf instrumental by the Chanteys, Everybody tells me there's a surf music influence in my work, but I had no idea what it was about. I used a table for a rhythm run in 'Bombay Boogie.' Some friends brought me a Ventures record and I heard the same sound, only on guitar.

It just proves that instrumental music crosses any cultural barriers, I just received a fan letter from Italy. Spanish-speaking stations, new age and college stations are all playing the record. Even the guys from Camper Van Beethoven, who are also from Santa Cruz, say they might want to work out some numbers for the next time we're on the same bill. I'd enjoy that."

©1989 San Francisco Chronicle. Printed by permission.
For additional information about Batish recordings and publications, contact: Batish Records, 1310 Mission street, Santa Cruz, Ca 95060, USA.

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