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Rafiq Bhatia

Rafiq Bhatia

New York composer and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia seeks to shatter preconceptions about how much can be said without a word—and, for that matter, who can say it. Breaking English, Bhatia’s audacious instrumental first album for ANTI- Records sets out to challenge existing musical vocabulary with a language of its own.

“‘Hoods Up’ was the first track I started on Breaking English, and one of the last ones I finished,” explained Bhatia. “Years in the making, with multiple discarded versions littering the path to completion, the piece is the result of me trying to push myself beyond my limits. That required wading into uncharted territory, but it also meant accepting myself for who I am. I think the music carries some of the struggle of its creation with it.”

“I started sculpting ‘Hoods Up’ in the wake of Trayvon Martin's senseless killing and the subsequent smear campaign against him: the systematic dehumanization of a young black teenager walking home in a hoodie. As I worked away at the song, escalating current events began to add layers of meaning to it. The white hoods from our country's past kept coming out of the woodwork, reminding us of the horrifying influence they continue to exert in the present.”

Bhatia is the first-generation American son of Muslim immigrant parents who trace their ancestry to India by way of East Africa. Early influences such as Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, and Madlib—as well as mentors and collaborators including Vijay Iyer and Billy Hart—prompted him to see music as a way to actively shape and represent his own identity, not limited by anyone else’s prescribed perspective.