Dateline: 02/20/98

Bakshish is Paul Rubenstein and Viren Kamdar, a Seattle-based duo that has already accomplished a lot in their relatively short career. They recently released their first CD four fifths of the world, which is an eclectic mix of World Music influences from India, the Middle East, and Indonesia, to name only a few. All instrumental, Kamdar's unique work with various percussion instruments provide the backbone to Rubenstein's repertoire of traditional (sitar, rebabs, recorders) ethnic instruments, and his own inventions whcih tend to combine two or more "standard" instruments into something totally new, like the electric m'bira and "viotar."

I recently asked Bakshish about their music, and how things are going for them so far.

Paula: How did the two of you get together? How long has Bakshish been together and how is your musical career going so far?

Paul: We met at a party hosted by a mutual friend. He had told us there would be a lot of musicians there and to bring instruments as everyone would be playing. Viren and I were the only ones to bring anything and things just clicked and we jammed for hours. Two weeks later we recorded our first demo and started playing gigs in Seattle. That was April of 96. A year later we put out our first cd, and we're nearly done with or second, which should be out this spring. We also play in Portland and Eugene now and are planning a tour to San Francisco.

Viren: My musical career per se began with Bakshish and it's going fabulously well, besides local and national college radio air play, stations in Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Estonia have played our music. In April of '97 Bantam Books realesed a "Mistress of Spices" a novel on audio tape, with our music playing intermittenly throughout the four hours. We have composed music for a Modern Dance Production. And let's not forget about the CD which we put out just one year after we met.

Paula: What does the name Bakshish mean?

Paul: There was a street performer in India a long time ago named Bakshish. He was a juggler or something, I'm not sure. He used to shout his name to the people that gathered around to watch him. Everyone thought he was asking for tips, and since he was well known, "bakshish" came to be known at first as meaning a request for tips, and later as any kind of solicitation for money, especially bribes to petty officials.

We chose the name because we like the sound of it - it gives people some idea of what to expect when they come to hear us. A lot of groups with Indian or Arabic influence choose names that have some religious or spiritual meaning. We wanted to avoid this, as it seems kind of pretentious. We're serious about music, but don't take ourselves too seriously. Paula: What are your musical influences?

Paul: I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Yes, stuff like that, then discovered jazz - Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Mahavishnu, Sun Ra, and got interested in Indian and Arabic music. When I went to college, I engineered a world music/jazz radio show and got much deeper into various musical cultures. The record library there (WHRW in Binghamton, NY) is enormous. I think their jazz library is the biggest in the state, so that helped me a lot in exploring different styles.

Viren: My influences are hard to define. I mainly draw off of my own creative energy. I began playing tablas about four years ago without any training and developed my own strokes, combinations and basically my own style. Paula: I can hear a lot of influences from other cultures -- did you do a lot of research into these styles? Did you travel to any of these countries?

Paul: I studied Javanese gamelan for a while a few years ago with Gamelan Pacifica, study sitar with Jeff Lewis, who spent seven years studying in India and has been playing for over 25 years, studied some (western) classical theory in college and jazz theory before that. Most of the work I've done has been independent, though. In school I spent a lot of time researching the music theory of various cultures - when I found something in the record library I liked, I would look into it more.

Viren: For the past two years I have been training in traditional Delhi and Pujabi rythms but I maintain my own playing style. My parents are from India and I been there several times. I also play Arabic, Nigerian and Indonesian percussion instruments but have had very limited instruction.

Paula: Paul, what got you started on inventing your own instruments? How did you come up with such interesting combinations?

Paul: The first instrument I built was an electric guitar with movable frets. The idea was to explore the ideas and concepts (in particular, the scales) I found in the non-western music I was studying. At this point, my only instrument was the guitar - making one with movable frets was the most natural way to acheive this. From there, I wanted to play with different sounds, and once I learned how to coil my own electromagnetic pickups, the possibilities really expanded.

When we record, we decide which instruments to combine mainly based on their range. To fill out the sound, and still have each instrument stand out individually, we think about what will take the bass range, middle, treble, etc, so everything blends together well and each part is heard clearly.

Paula: What do you hope to acheive artistically with Bakshish? What are your goals, musically?

Paul: One thing I'd like to do is get deeper into microtonal music (using intervals -the pitch distance between notes- not found in western music of the last three hundred years or so. Also I've been starting to use more electronic effects on the instruments (tastefully, I hope) and we're working on a lot of new pieces. One of the things I love about playing with Viren is we're both really open to experimentation and are committed to expanding and growing musically. We're always moving forward in several directions at once, like the branches of a tree. Our music is very improvisational, but at some point we may do some more compositionally oriented things. A lot of groups come and go but I think Bakshish will live a long time because, being so undefined, there's a lot of room to be and stay creative.

Viren: As far as I'm concerned all I can hope achieve is personal growth. And Bakshish's continued success is definetly a part of that.

Paula: What are your plans in the near future?

Paul: We're playing at the ok hotel in seattle on feb 7, at a benefit for the tibetans at Pilgrim's church in seattle feb 13, and march 21 we will be in Eugene, OR at the WOW hall. Our next cd should be out this spring, and our current disc is now available through our website, where you can also find audio and video clips, and more information. Viren: Personally, I begin a solo project Feb 2, composing a soundtrack for nationally touring Dance troupe, and I've begun playing gigs with my Drum Kit in a good ole rock & roll band "The Grand Simple"

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