1 Song, 8 Minutes


About Ashwin Batish

Ashwan Batish has been a man with a mission, and his mission has been to make the sitar into a contemporary electric instrument as relevant as the electric guitar. Based in the U.S., he's made the albums to back up his thesis, showing that it can rock as hard as any stringed instrument on the planet. But it wasn't always that way. Born in India, he was raised in a house where Indian classical music was the norm. His father Pandit Shiv Dayal Batish played sitar; it wasn't until the family moved to England in 1962 that he first heard, and loved, rock & roll. And he got close to it when his father played sitar on the Beatles' Help! album. The family moved again in 1973, this time farther west, to the U.S. By this time, Batish had become an accomplished sitar player himself, although he never viewed it as a career, focusing instead on aeronautics. However, the economic downturn in the '70s ended that idea, and Batish turned to accounting, finally earning a master's degree before thinking seriously about music. Even then, he never considered mating his love of rock with Indian music, beginning by recording discs of Indian classical music. In fact, his 1980 debut Morning Meditations was actually a collaboration with his father. He did venture a bit further afield the following year with The Third Stream, which added acoustic guitar to the mix, but it was very much a toe in the waters, and he retreated from it to make the live In Concert in 1984, where he was accompanied by master percussionist Zakir Hussein. Surprisingly, he took a lateral step next, releasing Om Shanti Meditation in 1985, which was not a sitar album, but featured the Indian harp called the swarmandal -- a sort of proto-new age disc. But the radical move came in 1986, when he put out Sitar Power (on his own Batish label, released on Shanachie in 1987, reissued on CD Batish 1994). The sitar was electrified, the rhythm section of bass and drums roared, and he'd transformed the instrument into something that mixed the best of East and West, with ragas, reggae, and rock, although all the tunes were based on traditional ragas. Although it received rave reviews at the time, Batish made no attempt to capitalize on it. If anything, he backed away from albums to focus on his family and run his own Batish Institute of Music and Fine Arts in Santa Cruz, CA. In fact, it wasn't until 1994 that the follow-up, Sitar Power #2, rolled off the assembly line, adding jazz and country into the mix. By this time, world music had begun to catch up with Batish, although he did follow it up with another live disc, In Montreal. Ashwan Batish has been in no rush to explore the field he helped pioneer. He still teaches and performs, but his concentration seems to have returned to Indian classical music. ~ Chris Nickson