When Internet music sensation Shobhit Banwait took the stage last month at Sheridan’s International Welcome Festival, he knew exactly how his audience was feeling. The 27-year-old drummer, whose covers of popular radio hits have drawn millions of views on both Facebook and YouTube, was once a Sheridan student himself. Not only that, he also understands the challenges that international students face when they come to the College.
“I know that when kids come here, they want to fit in. They start speaking a different way, they adapt to the slang. There’s so many different things they do to fit in,” says Banwait, a long-time Brampton resident whose parents, Devinder and Harjit, were both born in India. “I would always say, ‘Just be yourself, and be proud of who you are.’”
That’s what Banwait does through his music, playing the tabla (a pair of drums native to South Asia) to accompany chart-topping hits and Bollywood classics. His rendition of Calvin Harris and Disciplines’ How Deep Is Your Love has received 2.3 million views on Facebook, and his accompaniment of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You earned more than two million views in its first 18 months on YouTube.
Though Banwait was born in North York, he’s still fiercely proud of his roots. He’s gone to India virtually every year of his life to attend spiritual conventions with his family, he grew up watching his father sing in a West Indian band, and he learned to play the tabla at his spiritual centre in Brampton. “I thank my parents for taking me to India all of those years when I was younger,” Banwait says. “They took me back to their villages, where they used to live as kids. I saw where the farms are, people milking the cows. I think it’s very important for kids to see that. It keeps you in touch with your culture.”
“I know that when kids come here, they want to fit in. They start speaking a different way, they adapt to the slang. There’s so many different things they do to fit in. I would always say, ‘Just be yourself, and be proud of who you are.’” – Shobhit Banwait
That cultural connection has made Banwait’s music a “highlight” of International Welcome Festivals, according to Elena Shik, Sheridan’s associate director of International Services and Study Abroad. This fall marked the third straight time that Banwait has played at the festival, which drew more than 500 students to its inaugural fall event in 2017 and attracted 800 more at the winter festival in January. Over 700 students attended the festival this September. “He’s a Sheridan graduate, he’s from Brampton, and he connects with the audience,” Shik says. “Drums have a cultural importance in many places in the world… so I think it just connects on a very deep level for many participants.”
Banwait can sense the connection that his music makes with the students as well. “The festival’s been awesome the three times I’ve been,” he says. “When I played my first set (in 2017), I had a lot of Top-40 western tracks, but the students were saying, ‘Play the Punjabi songs! Play the Punjabi songs!’ “When those songs came on, I feel like it gave them that feeling that, yeah, the culture is alive in this country as well. They feel like they’re at home and it’s a way for everyone to connect to each other… It’s a good start to the semester that lets everyone get to know each other and feel like they’re at home.”
With international students comprising more than one-third of Sheridan’s total student population, those feelings of comfort and camaraderie are exactly what the festival is intended to achieve. “The goal is really to make friendships,” says Shik. “We want to make sure students have a support network they can rely on. We don’t just want to rely on orientation and be done with it. The idea is to have a continuing connection (with international students). By providing these informal events, we’re connecting, and international students can feel more comfortable coming in for advising appointments or a workshop or even a coffee and chat.”
Pictured at top of page: Shobhit Banwait.
Written by: Jon Kuiperij, Marketing Copy and Content Writer at Sheridan.