Ashwin Batish calls what he does when he is driving, "Sitarzan."
That is, he's got the stereo blasting Indian sitar music and he's wailing over it, not quite sounding like Tarzan, but definitely looking like him.
In case that wasn't a big enough clue, there is nothing the least bit shy about Batish, who has made Santa Cruz an international hotspot for Indian music.
You almost think there's a language problem when he tells you he's 60 –"six zero?" "Yes" - and has four kids, aged 6-14. But he's one of those musicians kept miraculously young by the power of their playing.
When he tells you about his latest disc, you understand his youthfulness. "It's got hip-hop, R&B, country and rock fusion," he says at an age when people would assume that words like hip-hop would have no relevance.
But his goal has always been to fuse classical Indian music with different kinds of contemporary music and to make the sitar as integral to popular music as the guitar. To do that, he is constantly learning about the music around him.
"What I liked about other music was that I could hear a whole range of instruments, kick drums, high hat cymbols, the massive bass, when I would put headphones on. I wanted that in my music as well, not just the high end of strings or tablas."
That drove him to collaborate with the likes of former Santana bass player Myron Dove, recently deceased guitarist Ronnie Montrose, tabla player Zakir Hussain, Richie Gajete Garcia, who plays congas for Sting and Diana Ross, and the Violent Femmes.
He loves Quincy Jones and wants to produce the same pop sensibility in some of his tunes.
Batish's father, Shiv Dayal Batish, who was also a classical sitar player, took the first step in the family toward fusion when he played on the Beatles Help! album in 1965.
"World Beat music showed promise and it still does," he says, three days before his big CD release concert at Kuumbwa. "It's been tagged as a fad but it grows where it has support."
Great musicians don't like being locked in a box, or a format, and Batish is constantly learning.
He was asked to record a track for a South American commercial for an Indian product, and next thing he knew, he was mixing samba with the sitar on a song called "Tropicool." He celebrates his Santa Cruz roots with the song "Surfing with the Sitarman," a mix of sitar – and you guessed it – surf music.
Batish makes the 18-strings of what some call the world's most difficult stringed instrument sound like an entire orchestra, with sounds that seem to come from far more than one person.
Born, coincidentally, in the Portuguese-named city of Santa Cruz in Mumbai, he started playing classical Indian music on drums when he was 6. At 14, he picked up the sitar.
The family moved to London in the 1960s and to Santa Cruz in 1973, after his father, a teacher, met UCSC math professor and chaos theorist Ralph Abraham, who encouraged him to teach music at the school.
His father credited Santa Cruz with giving him the freedom to write books and music about Indian music, something he never would have had if he had stayed in India. "Santa Cruz was the top of the pyramid for him," says Batish.
The family also ran a restaurant called Batish's India House on Mission Street until 1985.
"I would serve food and then jump on stage to play music," says Batish. "That's where I got my chops."
The restaurant is now an Indian music complex, with a recording studio and a music store. Batish studied at Cabrillo College and San Jose State University, earning a master's degree in accounting, before deciding to devote himself to his passion, music.
His first independently-produced album, Sitar Power, was a hit in 1986 and was picked up by the Shanachie label a year later. It mixed sitar with electric western instruments and showed the power of fusing traditional ragas with reggae, roots, rock, and whatever blend inspired Batish.
Batish's music is known around the world and he gives courses by computer to students in Japan, China and India from what he calls the .
Saturday's concert will be a family affair, with his son, Keshav, 14, on drums and his sister, Meena, on vocals. They will be celebrating three albums, one by Ashwin, one by his sister and one released posthumously of works by his father.
"I've always wanted people to know the power the sitar has in it," he says. "It's electrifying."
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show are $22/Adv $35/Gold Circle.
For Advance Tickets: www.snazzyproductions.com or by phone (831) 479-9421.