In the case of sitar/tabla player Ashwin Batish, that story has a twist: He began life in a section of Mumbai, India known as Santa Cruz, moved to England in his early teens, and ultimately settled down in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Batish moved from India to England to study of music with his father, composer/music director Pandit Shiv Dayal Batish. Then, at the bidding of local math professor Ralph Abraham, the elder Batish moved to the States to teach at UCSC for several years.
“He was always sending us telegrams: ‘You need to be here, guys! England is not the place for you,’” Ashwin recalls.” So we loaded up the truck and moved to Santa Cruz—the Beverley Batishes!”
As one of Bollywood’s founders, Ashwin’s father brought home a variety of influences. “He was classically trained, and the compositions he was making were in the [Indian] classical genre,” Ashwin says. “But at the same time, he was making movie music, which included a 40-piece orchestra. And so I got to hang out with musicians that were completely classical, and then some that were completely into pop, which is Indian pop, but also using western instruments. So it was really the best of both worlds for me when I was growing up.”
When it came time to create his own fusion of Indian and western instrumentation, Ashwin quickly noticed a schism between eastern and western intonations. “In Indian music, our intonations are governed by a drone that is playing in the background, and every note has to be aligned to it,” he explains. “Since we don’t steer into multi-harmonic changes, this whole aspect of listening to the key changing on equal temperament is not something that works with Indian music. And so that clash of intonation always was harsh for me in the beginning.”
He solved that problem by slightly detuning various instruments to bring them into better harmony with each other. “How to work with equal temperament became one of my passions,” he offers.
Along with being a performing musician, Ashwin teaches music classes at Mission Street’s Batish Institute of Indian Music and Fine Arts on weekend afternoons. Saturday workshops are devoted to western instruments, while Sunday workshops focus on Indian instruments.
Batish’s teachings stem from those of his father, whom he calls his guru. “His take on Indian music is very unique,” he notes. “He studied with a master musician in India, so he brought that philosophy to the table.”
Shiv Dayal Batish researched the music of both North India, which has nearly 700 ragas (melodic modes), and South India, which has almost 3,000 ragas. Ashwin continues to teach these ragas at the Batish Institute. “It’s an incredible blessing to have people coming in here and studying this and taking the tradition forward,” he states.
One of Batish’s students is his 18-year-old son Keshav, who studied almost 100 ragas by the time he was 3 or 4 years old. He began accompanying his father in concert at age 9. Currently a music student at UCSC, Keshav plays a number of instruments, including tabla, trap set, santoor, flute, veena and sitar.
Ashwin’s daughter Mohini also shows promise as a musician. As well as having played tanpura with Ashwin and Keshav in several live performances, she currently sings in Pacific Collegiate School’s choir.
Batish does his best to allow his children’s natural creativity and spontaneity to flourish. “Kids are already good improvisers,” he offers. “We tend to shut it down as we get older. So I try to encourage my children to retain that improvisation [ability], because imagination is what it’s all about.”
More about Ashwin Batish:
Amazon: Amazon.com: Ashwin Batish
Update: Ashwin Batish at KuumbwaDEBASHISH BHATTACHARYA & SUBHASIS BHATTACHAJEE with ASHWIN & KESHAV BATISH
Sunday July 24, 2016 7:30 p.m.
Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz CA
More info and tickets: http://snazzyproductions.com/2016/06/15/debashish-bhattacharya-subhasis-bhattachajee-ashwin-keshav-batish-jul-24/