The Indipop Retrospective (Narada)
At age sixteen, East Indian-Irish actress and pop singer, Sheila Chandra embarked on what would turn out to be an innovative music career. Before anyone became acquainted with the world music genre, producer/writer Steve Coe invited Chandra to join his Asian-fusion group Monsoon.
Chandra scored a top ten hit with Ever So Lonely, despite the fact that raga rock was considered passé at that time. Chandra left her pop leanings behind and she began exploring her Indian heritage. She signed on with Indipop, a label that Steve Coe (her future husband) formed and she began a series of experimental albums.
Her early albums drew their inspiration from Indian raga and mantras in which Chandra’s effervescent vocals draped over synthesizer drone, sitar and tabla beats. Eleven out of the 12 tracks on this retrospective appeared on previous Indipop recordings including, Quiet (1984), Nada Brahma (1985), Out on My Own (1984), The Struggle (1985), Roots and Wings (1990), This Sentence Is True (2001) and the unreleased track, Crescent Silver Scythe (2003).
The CD doesn’t come off as a greatest hits album and a few of the tracks hardly seem accessible unless you find ambient music with dissonant overtones accessible. Song of the Banshee portrays mysticism and focuses on Chandra’s immaculate vocals. Nada Brahma, Prema Shanti, Dharma, Satya and Om Shanti Om set sacred chants to exotic drone while One, Quiet 3 and Quiet 9 fit into the John Cage school of experimental music. This proves that music sung in a minor key can transcend gloom when sung by a talented and innovative vocalist. Mecca and Mien fall into darker territory while Village Girl is a clever song with pop sensibility.
Twenty years after Chandra embarked on her recording career and influenced the current Asian-fusion scene in the UK, she still experiments with new sounds, often stretching beyond previous musical boundaries. She is a formidable talent and one I am sure many vocalists admire. However, this retrospective CD doesn’t excite me. Perhaps it is one of those CD’s that grows on you over time. After all, Chandra is ahead of her time and many of us are catching up to the music she recorded a decade or two ago. At least she can’t be accused of selling out or not following her heart.
This archival review by Patty-Lynne Herlevi formerly appeared on Cranky Crow World Music.