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Rafiq Bhatia

Rafiq Bhatia is a Brooklyn-based composer, guitarist, and producer known for his boundary-challenging solo music and as a member of indie rock group Son Lux. He released an EP and a full-length debut in 2012 before becoming an official member of Son Lux in 2014. His second solo album, 2018's Breaking English, was recognized for its synthesis of genres, cultural influences, and acoustic and electronic palettes. Born in Hickory, North Carolina in 1987 to immigrant parents from East Africa (of Indian descent), Bhatia grew up in the university town of Raleigh. He counts Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, and Madlib among his early musical influences. Bhatia begin playing the guitar in high school, but after graduating, he enrolled at Oberlin College in Ohio for cognitive science and economics with an eye toward humanitarian work. He shifted to music after he found a mentor in drummer Billy Hart, then a professor at Oberlin Conservatory. He also realized that musicians like Hendrix, Sam Cooke, and Bob Marley had a direct impact on his own social consciousness. During his time in college, he frequently traveled to New York, both to perform and to study with Vijay Iyer. He relocated to Brooklyn after finishing his degree in 2010. Bhatia released two solo records in 2012: the Strata EP, which included a cover of Flying Lotus, and edging closer to a modern jazz guitar album, Yes It Will, which featured Iyer and Hart. Despite receiving praise from the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post for testing boundaries, Bhatia was frustrated by what he saw as the limitations of strict jazz guitar. At that point, he started experimenting with composing on Ableton Live and plug-ins instead of the guitar. Around this time, Bhatia began collaborating with Ryan Lott, a pianist who composed modern-dance music for the stage as well as releasing experimental rock as Son Lux. In 2013, Bhatia's guitar playing could be heard on the Tecla LP We Are the Lucky Ones and on the track "Easy" from Son Lux's Lanterns. That year, he also contributed to the self-titled Sisyphus album, Lott's project with singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens and rapper Serengeti. In 2014, Bhatia played on Lott's film score for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and became an official member of Son Lux alongside drummer Ian Chang, a likewise off-kilter experimentalist. Following up with extensive tours of the U.S. and Europe, the trio released Bones in 2015 and Brighter Wounds in February 2018. In April 2018, Bhatia issued his second solo album, Breaking English, via the Anti- label. With guests including Chang, Marcus Gilmore, and bassist Jackson Hill, its fractured soundscape explored timbres beyond just the guitar, including voice and electronics.
© Marcy Donelson /TiVo
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