Amar is also one of the primary co-creators of the Bay Area World Music scene, which is now as popular as the Asian Underground in London, or the Asian Massive in New York. When you go to hear Amar, or his fellow DJs Dragonfly, Cheb i Sabbah, or Manesh the Twister, you will be doing much more than just dancing to their records. The dancing takes place at concert party events with names like Dhamaal Sound system, Groove Garden, Deshret, or Electric Vardo, which also feature live music, both traditional and fusion. Most events also include extras like video lightshows, live dancers, ethnic food, massage, or henna hand painting. Amar’s own events also include Beneath the Veil, where he spins (and electronically alters) recordings of Arabic music for Middle Eastern dancers. When the dancers finish their set, Amar mixes techno music with the Arabic recordings, inspiring the audience to imitate the dancers they’ve just seen. The rest of the evening alternates between recorded music and live performance, with a level of variety that is constantly surprising: Pakistani folk music, American jazz, New Age cello. Amar produces several events each year, and those of us who perform for him never know who we are going to be sharing the stage with, or where the next stage will be. He even has a monthly concert series at his store. The concerts are free, and Amar serves free food. But when the sounds of sitar and tabla come wafting out of the door onto Piedmont Avenue, it always draws people into the store, many of whom end up buying something, and telling their friends about it afterwards.
Amar collaborates with so many organizations and artists it’s hard to tell who is working for whom. The concept of competition seems unheard of in this scene: Amar both hires and is hired by all of the other promoters and DJs, and everyone shares each other’s mailing lists and web links. Amar designs websites and posters, does sound engineering, is on the board of directors for the San Francisco World Music Festival, and on occasion even cooks food for his, and other, events. He also throws great parties, which are basically like his club events except that everything is free, and the musicians play for each other.
Amar grew up in California, but he was born in Rajasthan, and speaks Hindi and Punjabi reasonably well. He admits that “sometimes I mix the two languages up, which gives my Indian relatives a good laugh.” However, he has a strong link to Indian culture, for he is the son of the great bansuri player G.S. Sachdev. He received musical training at an early age, but decided not to become a musician himself. “For my father, the music came from within,” says Amar, “and I knew that I didn’t have the drive that made him devote his life to it. Because his family tried to stop him from playing music, he would never have pressured me to follow his path. So I eventually decided that I was meant to appreciate music rather than perform it.”
He did, however, learn one marketing lesson from his father: Don’t assume that the public only wants to hear what it has already heard. When G.S. Sachdev arrived in California, there were no venues that booked Indian music. So he performed with Zakir Hussain in Rock and Roll nightclubs like the Sleeping Lady, going from telephone pole to store window with the young Amar to put up his own posters. Having seen his father’s traditional Hindustani music become popular in totally unexpected places, without any artistic compromises, Amar learned that you can be successful by giving the public something it doesn’t yet know that it wants.
Amar gave himself a firm business foundation by getting a degree in international business from Sonoma State, then went to work doing marketing for a legal firm. It was there that he honed his marketing and computer skills, and saved up money to start his first store. The store took a while to generate positive cash flow, so he began working as a DJ. “I have my day job at night,” he jokes. The DJ work also introduced him to the community of performers, technicians, and promoters that he now draws on to produce his concerts. His big breakthrough as a promoter came from a return to his family roots: he produced two concerts featuring his father. The first sold out a 400-seat venue. The second had triple the attendance, and sold out Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Since then Amar has been in great demand for his ability to make things happen. Sometimes he starts projects, and then contacts the other people needed to finish them. Sometimes he steps in and does exactly what’s needed to make someone else’s project work. His life is now filled with an abundance of choices and activities, leaving little time for sleep or social life. But his cheerfully haggard smile shows that he is having as much fun as the people who shop at his store, and attend his concerts.
Teed Rockwell has studied Indian classical music with Ali Akbar Khan and other great Indian musicians. He is the first person to play Hindustani music on the Touchstyle Fretboard.