Q&A: Rohit Batra on Chasing his Musical Aspirations, Spearheading, and Creating 'Sur in Seattle'

Q&A: Rohit Batra on Chasing his Musical Aspirations, Spearheading, and Creating ‘Sur in Seattle’

Rohit Batra affirms: "I wanted to create a platform that could highlight and promote original Indian music."

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Talking passionately about his life-long journey and music-related trajectory, business consultant and artist, Rohit Batra mentions, “I have been interested in music for as long as I can remember.” Born in New York, USA, Batra’s life was subject to a series of considerable changes quite early on. He moved to India at the impressionable age of 10 and spent his primary years living in Rajasthan, Chandigarh, and New Delhi. While in Delhi, Batra composed music for several stage plays while working in the Mandi house theater scene before returning to the U.S. at the age of 20 in the year 2001. Soon after, Batra briefly served in the U.S. army only to settle in Seattle, Washington in the year 2004.

Hereafter, Batra earned an MBA in marketing, explored numerous prospects in banking alongside freelancing as a DJ in Seattle for over 15 years. All along, he was met with tremendous success in his corporate and DJing career, however, his inherent passion lied in composing original music based on raw talent and artistry. He recalls some of his earliest musical influences from his own family wherein—his mother would take on the roles of his greatest supporter as well as critic, his grandfather being a musician would only allow religious music in the house, and contrastingly, his father, a ghazal aficionado who loved to sing  would greatly encourage and inspire Batra to learn music and sing consistently. Unfortunately, his father’s untimely demise, never allowed Batra’s musical compositions to reach his father on time.

Presently, Batra works as a business consultant at British Petroleum. Strikingly, owing to the many influences and his passion for music Batra envisioned, conceptualized, and brought to life his distinguished project, “Sur in Seattle.” It is meant to assemble, compose, and celebrate original Indian music. The Indian SCENE spoke extensively with Batra about his life-journey, love for music, and accomplishments in the music industry so far.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Indian SCENE: How did you get into music? 

Rohit Batra: I began composing for stage plays in Delhi in my teenage years. Growing up, both my parents sang at home and my mom even played the tabla. My father was a huge ghazal enthusiast and would occasionally arrange “mehfil” nights at our house in New York in the early 80’s. Ghazal lovers and singers from all over the NY metro area would get together and have musical evenings at our house. I cannot think of a single night when music was not playing in our household. This further fueled my passion for music.

Rohit Batra alongside George Varghese.

IS: What prompted you to start your venture? Elaborate upon the venture itself.

RB:  The Indian music scene is heavily influenced by Bollywood. In fact, most westerners think Bollywood is a genre of music. To this day, if you search the web for “original Indian music” all you find are Bollywood songs. I wanted to create a platform that could highlight and promote original Indian music.

With this thought in mind, I started “Sur in Seattle” in 2016. The goal was to create original Indian music and work with real musicians. As you may know, most music these days is created on a laptop. I have always felt that there is something special about working with real musicians. All of our music is produced at Verge Studios in Seattle by George Varghese. George is an award winning musician himself and has been instrumental to our success. At Sur in Seattle, we try to work with local musicians and vocalists. This provides paid work to musicians and provides a platform for up-and-coming singers to showcase their talent. In the last two years, we have worked with 18 vocalists and 23 musicians and technicians.

IS: What kind of performances or compositions do you typically create?

RB: Indian music is a rich tapestry of many influences. At Sur in Seattle, we try to create original work in several different genres. We have made everything from ballads, 70’s style funk , semi-classical music to even rap and acoustic rock. This enables us to work with different musicians and vocalists. Every singer has a unique vocal texture and creating different genres of music helps us explore these various talented voices within our community.

IS: Which has been your most memorable performance or composition?

RB: In 2017, I was invited to perform at the prestigious Benaroya Hall, home to the Seattle Symphony. It was an honor to perform at this amazing venue and it still remains a vivid memory that I will always cherish.

IS: Tell us about your achievements in the music industry.

RB: Sur in Seattle has been received with a tremendous amount of love from listeners around the world. In fact, we recently crossed five million views on our songs across social media platforms. We have released two albums: Sur in Seattle Season one & two in the past two years and are currently working on season three. Our original song “Akhiyaan” from season one received the grand prize at the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Eventually, it became the first Indian song to win the prestigious Lennon award. Our songs have won several other awards including—the semi-finals at the UK Songwriting Contest, Unsigned Only Contest and the International Songwriting Contest. Both of our albums have also featured on the official Grammy award ballots in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

IS: What is the best advice you have received so far and from whom?

RB: When I began thinking of making music, most people told me I should stick to making covers of Bollywood songs. Most of my friends thought there is no market for original music. I was confused and unsure about how to proceed. Then one day my dear friend Niraj Kamat, who himself is an amazing composer, told me to follow my heart and make music that I believe in. This gave me the confidence to start Sur in Seattle.

IS: What advice would you offer to our Indian American youth who want to pursue a career in the music industry? 

RB: It is always a pleasure to see Indian American youth show an interest in our music. The most important thing I can tell young creators is to not become disheartened if they do not get views online immediately. It takes time to build an audience. And this also allows you to become better at what you hope to do. Keep following your dreams with tenacity and consistency. But remember that your first video will not go viral. You may not even get 100 views. And, this is okay. Don’t give up. The road ahead may be hard, but it is not impossible!

IS: What is next for you?

RB: We are currently working hard on Season three and should be ready to release the album in Aug. of 2021. For the future, my hope is to expand our operation to other states in the U.S. The Indian diaspora is full of such amazing talent and I hope to continue working with the best Indian vocalists and musicians in the U.S.

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