Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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BHATT, V. M.

(Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, b 27 July '52, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India) Mohan vina player. A collaboration between Bhatt and Ry Cooder, A Meeting By The River, won the third Grammy ever won by an Indian musician. Bhatt had been a classical musician known to a few eclectically minded guitar aficionados, recording since '70; after the Grammy India Today ran a feature on him, the State of Rajasthan presented him with a lakh (100,000 rupees or about 2,000/$3,500) in recognition of his achievement. Shashi Mohan Bhatt, his older brother, had been one of Ravi Shankar's first students c'49-- 50 and several of the family also studied with Shankar; the younger Bhatt studied sitar for around ten years, and violin; a German student left her guitar behind c'67 and Bhatt claimed it. The instrument that he evolved -- Mohan vina or veena -- sounds like a slide guitar but was modified to make it more suitable for Hindustani music; he was talent-scouted by HMV (India) '70 and made an EP of 'Raga Rajeshvari' and 'Raga Des'. He later recorded for labels incl. Chhanda Dhara (Raga-Ragini '88), Raga Records (Easter Sunday Recital '90) and EMI (India) (The Brilliance Of Guitar) as well as appearing on record with his guru, Ravi Shankar. While on tour in the USA he met Kavi Alexander, whose audiophile Water Lily Acoustics label made Hindustani classical albums Saradamani and Gathering Rain Clouds with Bhatt. Through the guitar builder and pick-up designer Rick Turner Cooder heard Bhatt and A Meeting By The River was recorded in a single, improvised session in Santa Barbara CA with Sukhvinder Singh Namdhari on tabla and Cooder's teenage son Joachim on dumbek. Following the success of Meeting, other languishing recordings emerged. Song Of Nature on Magnasound '92 with its lineup of guitar, santoor and flute was reminiscent of Call Of The Valley on HMV '67, the masterpiece created by Shivkumar Sharma (santoor), Brijbushan Kabra (guitar) and Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute); a solo album Guitar la Hindustan followed. Water Lily brought him back to Santa Barbara '94 for collaborative projects incl. Mumtaz Mahal, N. Ravikiran playing chitra vina (a type of South Indian stick zither), as well as roots music singer and guitarist Taj Mahal: the wild repertoire incl. 'Stand By Me', Robert Johnson's 'Come On In My Kitchen', the Slickers' 'Johnny Too Bad' and 'Out On The Rolling Sea'. Another session produced the Indo-Chinese Silk, Jade And The Begging Bowl with er'hu player Jie Bing Chen, and a collaboration with dobroist Jerry Douglas and string bass player Edgar Meyer Bourbon And Rose Water. Yet another fusion project with banjoist Bela Fleck called Tabula Rasa, also on Water Lily '96, earned him another Grammy nomination '97. Musicians such as George Harrison commissioned Turner to build them their own Mohan vinas; and Bhatt's son Salil (b Salil Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, 17 Jan. '71, Jaipur) also took up the instrument, performing on stage with his father in Northern Ireland (where Bhatt became the first Indian musician to give a classical recital) and England '96. The outstanding collaboration Saltanah '96 on Water Lily paired Bhatt with Simon Shaheen, virtuoso oud player of Arabian art music.