London Undersound (E1 entertainment, 2009)
The grand master of world music atmospheres, multi-instrumentalist, club DJ and producer Nitin Sawhney, is back with London Undersound, an eclectic recording that blends pop, British soul, world music and electronica. For this project, Sawhney brought together world music heavyweights such as Ojo de Brujo and Anoushka Shankar, as well as other exciting UK-based world music acts such as Faheem Mazhar and Reena Bhardwaj and multi-instrumentalist Imogen Heap. On the pop side, the best known guest is pop singer Paul McCartney, one of the founders of the legendary group The Beatles. The additional pop and soul singers featured, who are well known in their circles, are: Natty, Tina Grace, and Aruba Red.
The best material in Sawhney’s recordings are his world music explorations and his brilliant use of electronic music beats and keyboard ambience. London Undersound, Sawhney’s eighth album, brings back one of the most popular Spanish world music acts, Ojos de Brujo. Sawhney has a special interest in Flamenco and on the instrumental piece ‘Shadowland,’ Ojos de Brujo provide their vision of Flamenco fusion by combining Gypsy rumba, flamenco guitars and vocals with Sawhney’s sensibility.
On ‘Daybreak,’ Pakistani singer Faheem Mazhar shows us his prodigious voice in an outstanding piece. "I wanted to create something that was very optimistic, so I tried to capture how I feel when I wake up, which is a very active time for me," Sawhney says. "I like to train. Maybe go for a run, kick-box or do some yoga. The song is written as a traditional form of Indian classical music. I love the tone of Faheem’s voice. It reminds me of Nusrat Fateh All Khan who was one of my great heroes."
The South Asian influences continue with ‘Ek Jaan,’ which is a delightful song with Indian vocals by Reena Bhardwaj, a British born singer of Indian origin, accompanied by Nitin Sawhney’s elegant piano.
The world music material in the album ends with the mesmerizing ‘Charu Keshi Rain,’ a new arrangement of a raga popularized by the sitar player Ravi Shankar, which features the majestic and evocative sitar of virtuoso musician Anoushka Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s daughter. "It was called Charu Keshi Rain because when Anoushka came to the studio in Wandsworth it was during those floods last year, so it seemed appropriate," Sawhney says.
Another cut in the album that catches attention is ‘Bring it Home,’ the drum and bass collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Imogen Heap, which includes a fascinating set of vocal layers. Imogen and I thought it would be great to have a single human breath travelling around London," Sawhney says. "So we recorded the song in four phases, starting off at Billingsgate Fish Market at 6am. By midday we were at a Battersea Children’s farm, then in the evening we went to Southall, where there is a large Asian community and she sang the phrase ‘Equal and opposite,’ which I liked. At midnight we went to Camden, where we recorded a load of people shouting ‘Bring it home!’ I think most of them were pissed by then, but it worked really well. It was a fantastic day which was all about tuning in to the different aspects of what London represents."
"London Undersound is about how London’s changed since 9/11 and how I and other people perceive that change," Sawhney explains. "I don’t recognize London as the same place it was ten years ago. The change has been quite subliminal and insidious. But it is massively different. London has become polarized in a way that I find uncomfortable and threatening, especially as an Asian person. I wanted to explore through my music the dynamic of a city which is going through a major transition."
On London Undersound, Sawhney creates yet again a brilliant multi-layered collection of global electronica, world music and pop sounds.
Buy the CD and MP3 download:
- In North America: London Undersound
- In Europe: London Undersound and London Undersound [Limited Edition Deluxe Box Set]
Watch the video Distant Dreams