Rafiq Bhatia is a Hickory, NC-born, New York-based composter, guitarist and producer of East African Indian descent. Before joining Ryan Lott and Ian Chang to expand renowned indie act Son Lux from a solo recording project to a fully fleshed out band, Bhatia released two critically applauded solo efforts — 2012’s Yes It Will and Strata. As a guitarist and producer, Bhatia has worked with an impressive and diverse array of artists including Olga Bell, Sam Dew, Marcus Gilmore, Billy Hart, Heems, Helado Negro, Vijay Iyer, Glenn Kotche, Valegir Sigurðsson, Moses Sumney, David Virelles, Lorde, Sufjan Stevens and others. Adding to a growing profile, he’s recored with the chamber ensembles International Contemporary Ensemble, JACK Quartet and Alarm Will Sound, and he’s had work appear on the soundtracks for the major motion pictures The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Air, and Afflicted.
Bhatia’s third solo album Breaking English is slated for an April 6, 2018 release through ANTI- Records, and the album reportedly finds the renowned composer, producer and guitarist, who has long been influenced by Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Madlib, as well as mentors and collaborators Vijay Iyer and Billy Hart, meshing avant-garde jazz with textured and sculptured electronic composition and production. Because of his experience as a first-generation son of East African-born, Indian Muslim immigrant parents, who can trace their ancestry back to India, and the influence of mentors like Vijay Iyer and Billy Hart, Bhatia sees music as a way to actively shape and represent his own identity, not limited by anyone else’s prescribed perspective. Interestingly, the album’s overall theme and its title were inspired by a 2008 trip to India that Bhatia took with his sister and parents — the first time he had ever seen the ancestral homeland. “We were driving towards the Taj Mahal, and noticed as we approached that there was an alarming number of signs advertising ‘Shooting Ranges.’ We grew increasingly curious and concerned about why these signs, which were written in English, were so prevalent — could they be targeted towards American tourists and their obsession with guns?” Bhatia recalled in press notes. “But eventually, we realized that ‘shooting’ was intended in the photographic sense. We had a good laugh about it, but then my dad turned to me quite seriously and asked ‘Eventually there will be likely more English speakers out here than there are in the West. At that point, who will get to decide what constitutes a proper use of English?’”
“’Breaking English’ is a ceremony of a song,” Bhatia continues. “Its central theme revealed itself to me in an improvised performance, fully formed, as though it had always existed. The cyclical form of the piece allows it to shed its skin and present itself anew in successive iterations, even as the core idea — or problem, or experience — stubbornly persists.”
Breaking English‘s latest single, album title track, the atmospheric and soulful “Breaking English” which features skittering drums, a sinuous bass line, blasts of bluesy guitar and a wailing chorus — and in some way, the composition nods at an incredible synthesis of the work of JOVM mainstay Nick Hakim, J. Dilla and Flying Lotus but with a soulful weariness and ache.
Bhatia is currently performing tracks from Breaking English with a backing band featuring his Son Lux bandmate Ian Chang on drums and Jackson Hill on bass, and the tour will include an April 9, 2017 album release show at National Sawdust. Building up buzz for the spring portion of the tour, as well as the National Sawdust show, Bhatia released a jammier live version of album title track “Breaking English,” which gives a good taste of the chemistry behind Bhatia and his backing band during a live set. Of course, check out the tour dates below.
4/9 – New York, NY – National Sawdust – Album Release Show
4/11 – Chicago, IL – Schubas
4/12 – Indianapolis, IN – IUPUI Masterclass
4/19 – Warsaw, PL – Poglos
4/20 – Berlin, DE – Acud Macht Neu
4/21 – Hamburg, DE – Hafenklang
4/22 – Copenhagen, DK – Ideal Bar
4/26 – Antwerp, BE – deSingel / Bouge B Festival
4/27 – London, UK – Shacklewell Arms
4/28 – Paris, FR – Point Éphémère
4/29 – Metz, FR – 7(7) Café
5/3 – Nyon, CH – LA Parenthèse
5/4 – Luzern, CH – Sedel
5/29 – Los Angeles, CA – The Moroccan Lounge
5/30 – San Francisco, CA – Café Du Nord
* – supporting Red Baraat