Ashwin Batish

Sitar Power

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There was a period of time when the sitar, or at least the cheapo electric guitar version of it, was heard on practically every pop hit. But disregarding this curious part of pop history, the creation of any kind of hybrid of American and Indian music has happened mostly in India, not in America. Something of a minor hit for an independent album when it was first released, Sitar Power is one of the few breakthroughs that happened on the American continent, courtesy of a talented and charming gent whose connection to the aforementioned Indian pop influence was pretty direct: Ashwin Batish's father was one of the Indian musicians who worked on the Beatles' Help! soundtrack. The multi-tracking and arrangements that Batish so meticulously created on this set of instrumentals are almost as much of a marvel as his exciting, technically stunning sitar work. All the same there is something cheesy about these accompaniments, although that is part of the charm, like the British style of serving chips at a curry house. One unforgettable image of Batish over the years was a private demonstration he provided for a Canadian Broadcasting Company host while performing at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Seated on a stool in the midst of an empty prairie, Batish played rapid-fire sitar licks over the top of what sounded like a full-band backing, all coming out of a set of sequencers and effects racks in a small box at his feet. He seems to be one of those multi-trackers that spends forever working on pieces and sometimes never stops tinkering, which might explain why he only completed two volumes of music such as this when there is clearly a demand for more. In that sense the success of this album is also a nice part of the '80s home-taping scene, Batish establishing an early mastery of the type of new recording technology that would move many artists out of the realm of the recording studio for good. In addition, the strength that indie labels had in the '80s was also one of the reasons that a record such as this, at first released on the artist's own Batish label, eventually would pick up something of a global following, including the popularity of the "Bombay Boogie" track at the hippest German discos. Sifting through all these positives, a listener can be an alchemist and attempt to isolate the gold or single element that makes this project work so well. The inevitable answer is Batish himself -- beyond the instrumental virtuosity, his joy with what he is doing comes across as a specific within the general sense of his exuberant personality.

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