TAMPA — Ravi Jakhotia still remembers his first standing ovation.
The musician known internationally as “DJ Ravi Drums,” who would later perform at the Oscars and the Super Bowl, was 12 and had a drum solo at a Tampa dinner party celebrating the ancient Hindu festival of Diwali.
When he was done, the crowd of 200 in the rental hall stood, applauded and demanded an encore.
“I was so proud,” said Jakhotia’s father and longtime Tampa resident Ram Jakhotia. “To be the father of the boy everyone is cheering was a great feeling.”
When Ram next sees his son in action, it will be at the largest Indian event ever held in the U.S.
Jakhotia, a Chamberlain High School graduate, will perform at three events sponsored by the International Indian Film Academy when the “Bollywood Oscars” roll into town April 23-26.
He will perform as a DJ and drummer at the IIFA Stomp — a free and open-to-the-public celebration of Indian music, dance and cuisine 7 p.m. April 23 at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
He will then entertain the IIFA Rocks party — a VIP only fashion and music event 8 p.m. April 24 at the Tampa Convention Center.
His weekend will culminate at the “Bollywood Oscars” held 7 p.m. April 26 at Raymond James Stadium.
He is the pre-show entertainment, charged with working the crowd of more than 20,000 into a frenzy for when the cameras start rolling. And once they do, an estimated 800 million viewers from around the world will watch a six-minute opening dance number that tells the story of Tampa’s culture to music Jakhotia wrote.
“What IIFA does when it visits an area is celebrate what makes it unique,” Jakhotia said. “My music celebrates everything from the aquarium to the beaches to the Latin culture. If it is synonymous with Tampa, it is represented through my music and the choreographed performance.”
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For weeks, Santiago Corrada has been declaring this will be his favorite part of the show. The CEO and president of the Visit Tampa Bay tourism group, Corrada likened it to a six-minute commercial about Tampa that will be seen around the world.
“It celebrates our people, places and history,” Corrada said. “It tells the world what makes us such a great destination. The fact that a Chamberlain graduate is behind it makes it that much more special.”
Jakhotia said his ties to Tampa were not what won him the Indian film academy gigs. Rather, he credits his work with event organizer Wizcraft at the 2012 Indian Premiere League cricket opening ceremony and his standing as a U.S. born entertainer with Indian roots and a bridge between the cultures.
The fact that he is from Tampa is an added bonus for the organizers.
“I think the music I wrote for the opening act will be authentic because I know how this city sounds, from Ybor to South Tampa to the sporting events,” Jakhotia said.
“He is an outstanding performer. I think the crowd that will be in Tampa will have a great time seeing his sets,” said Roshni Patel, Tampa native and co-founder of UrbanAsian.com, considered to be North America’s leading Bollywood news website. “I am very excited to see him perform live.”
His talents have paired him with some of the best known musicians in the world — Tupac Shakur, Paula Abdul, Justin Timberlake, Ricky Martin, Will Smith, Brittany Spears, Pitbull, Slash and the Black Eyes Peas — and landed him a job as musical director in 2008 for a prime-time U.S. TV show, comedian Howie Mandel’s “Howie Do It.”
He said he considers the Bollywood events to be the pinnacle of his career.
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Much of the music Jakhotia will perform is tracks from a new album he is releasing in conjunction with the Indian film academy.
“When I perform with someone like Paula Abdul I play her music,” he said. “When I perform at IIFA next week, I am showcasing my music. My brand will be front and center.”
His brand is unique.
So he can switch from one medium to the next throughout his performance, his musical rig includes a clear light-up drum set and DJ equipment from a design by NASA scientists that allows him to remix his music on the fly.
And while he has entertained at major events around the world — China, Brazil, India, Japan, Europe, Australia, Dubai and throughout North America — Jakhotia said the combination of circumstances next week will make this his most memorable performance.
“I thought about it a month ago and was almost driven to tears,” said Jakhotia, who now lives in Los Angeles. “It is awesome to come back to Tampa and perform for a globally watched Indian event. My parents have told me they are over the moon excited.”
His parents — Ram and Rashmi — are conservative, he said, strict Hindus who would seem opposed to his show business career. In reality, they have always supported him, he said.
“Not a lot of Indian kids in Tampa wanted to shave a Mohawk and play music when I was growing up,” said Jakhotia, who was born in New York and spent time in Houston before moving to Tampa with his family in 1981. “The other Indian kids wanted to talk about science fairs. I wanted to talk music. I was definitely an outcast.”
His parents were traditional in one sense: If he wanted to be a drummer, he had to pay his own way.
Jakhotia said he was 10 the first time he asked for a drum set. He said his father replied, “That sounds expensive. I think some neighbors need their lawns mowed.”
Ram Jakhotia said he was concerned his son’s desire for drums was an expensive whim. Plus, he added, he knew if Jakhotia worked for it he would appreciate it more.
Six months after joining the workforce, Jakhotia earned $264 through lawn work and a paper route. He said he never even spent a nickel on a piece of gum.
Realizing his son was serious, his father agreed to match his savings so he could afford the drums.
Jakhotia’s talent surfaced almost immediately, his father said.
It was just a year later that he earned the standing ovation at the Divali celebration.
At Chamberlain he was named captain of the school’s drum line. After graduation he joined the band Crimson Glory, a progressive rock group from Sarasota with a record contract with Atlantic Records, and then performed beside Tampa’s own world renowned jazz musician Gumbi Ortiz.
In 1997, feeling he accomplished all he could in Tampa, he moved to Los Angeles.
“I wanted to swim with the big fish,” he said. “And I’m happy that it worked out.”
While his father is proud of his son’s accomplishments, he boasts most of his son’s respect for his culture.
For instance, over the years, despite being one of the most sought after percussionists and DJs in the music industry, Jakhotia has returned to Tampa to on occasion to perform at cultural events such as Indian Independence Day ceremonies at the Indian Cultural Center.
“He has maintained a relationship with Tampa and India,” Ram Jakhotia said. “That is what I find most satisfying.”