Sheila Chandra, the Anglo-Indian singer who released a number of synth-pop albums in the 1980s, is in a more experimental mood in this album. Her earlier releases include ABoneCroneDrone.
This album is rather intriguingly named,
and our picks on this album include the three tracks briefly titled This,
Sentence and Is! The sound is ambient, but less sensual and more fragmented.
Her vocals are mixed with percussion, piano riffs, guitar riffs and crackling
The album may come across a bit jarring or
even dissonant to some listeners, especially those used to more rhythmic
arrangements, and the 7 tracks barely stretch beyond 45 minutes.
Sheila Chandra – Out on my own (Indipop, 1984, reissued by Narada//EMI in 2000)
This is a slender album by today’s standards, with 10 tracks just stretching over 40 minutes. But it is an important milestone in the musical path of Sheila Chandra, leading UK-based Indian-origin fusion artist from the 1980s.
As the liner notes explain, this was Sheila
Chandra’s declaration of independence from pressure from her first label, after
scoring a U.K. hit with the group Monsoon and the song, “Ever So
Tablas, keyboards, guitar and sitars provide the backing for her strong experimental vocals. Our picks include the title track and the ambient ‘Prema;’ also check out the dreamy ‘From a Whisper.’
Singing at her family home at age 12, Sheila Chandra discovered her voice – an instrument which has beguiled and mesmerized her audiences around the world ever since.
Born in London to a family of East Indian ancestry, Chandra resolved herself at an early age to be a singer and spent countless hours honing her voice a labor of love. But unsure how to break into the music business Chandra was ready when the chance came her way.
That chance came when Steve Coe, a writer and record producer was forming a new band as an outlet for his increasingly East Indian-influenced music. He came across an audition tape by Chandra and knew immediately that he had found his singer for the group Monsoon.
Monsoon’s first single, Ever So Lonely a song written around a raga used newly available production techniques to create a groundbreaking modern pop fusion sound. The single became a top ten hit with a quarter million sales worldwide. Yet six months later Chandra walked away from her blossoming success frustrated by a lack of artistic freedom. She came to the independent cottage industry-style label Indipop to explore her musical creativity and to learn the craft of composition.
Free to focus on her art, Chandra entered a remarkable and prolific two years with Indipop. Her solo albums for the label chronicle a profound transformation in the quality and depth of her work both as a singer and as a composer. Her subsequent years with Real World Records created another truly unique sound — forever setting a new standard in world music.
Originally released in 1984, Quiet was Chandra’s second solo album for Indipop and marked her debut as a composer. For the first time she faced the ‘blank page’ – the potentially most powerful reflector of the human soul. “I was terrified at the necessity of committing to paper or vinyl what I really thought or felt musically – I still am sometimes. I have since grown to deeply value the mental freedoms possible in the pure world of imagination that composing led me into. In it I open any social cultural or material restrictions. I can think thoughts I was perhaps unable to think of before.”
Quiet is the recording where that process began. Chandra along with a team of writers approached the album as a platform for her musical evolution and as a showcase for the possibilities she was developing as a composer and for her voice. Her goal was to force herself into a new territory to learn as a musician and writer by discovering obscure musical methods structures and elements.
Consequently, Quiet has no lyrics, the tracks untitled and the music explores a structural world of cyclic riffs and as many Eastern and Western tones and textures as Chandra could vocally bring to the work.
The album has a very different approach, acting as a prelude to Chandra’s innovative work on the Real World label. The music has strong melodies and an Indian influence but there are no dance floor drums or Indian percussion.
Originally released in 1990, Roots and Wings was written by Chandra after a four year sabbatical. During those years Chandra thought seriously about what constitutes an artist not only in terms of skill and imagination but also in terms of mastery of the self and mental independence.
Chandra’s writing also evolved with her heightened sense of artistic creativity. Already incorporating drones into her work Chandra discovered their multi-harmonics were irresistible backdrops to her solo voice. “Drones are magical things in terms of what they will allow me to do structurally psychologically and creatively.”
Roots and Wings contains the seeds of Chandra’s a cappella/solo voice style brought to the forefront on her groundbreaking Real World albums Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices and The Zen Kiss. The album also led Chandra on a series of small but significant steps to finding gateways between vocal cultures within the context of a single melodic line — a style which has since set her apart as one of the most influential and innovative world music masters.
In 2009, Chandra began experiencing symptoms of what was eventually diagnosed as burning mouth syndrome, as a result of which she is unable to sing, speak, laugh or cry without suffering intense pain. As a result of her illness Chandra retired from music. She turned her attention to writing self-help books.
Out On My Own (1984)
The Struggle (1985)
Nada Brahma (Indipop 1985)
Roots And Wings (Indipop 1989)
Silk 1983 – 199 (1991 – a best of album) Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices (Realworld/USA: Caroline Records, 1992)
The Zen Kiss (Realworld/USA: Caroline Records, 1994) ABoneCroneDrone (Realworld/USA: Caroline Records, 1996) Monsoon (Mercury 1995)
This Sentence is True (Shakti/Narada, 2001)
Indipop Retrospective (Narada, 2003)
Imagined Village (2007)
Iconic world music label Real World Records announced a new initiative called Real World Gold. The project focuses on reissues of essential recordings that have been unavailable for a number of years. The series will deliver the reissued albums in batches of ten. The first installment of the series, scheduled for release in Europe on May 21st, ranges from recordings by crucial Real World artists (musicians like the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Afro Celt Sound System, Sheila Chandra and the Blind Boys of Alabama) to those of lesser celebrated partnerships, such as Lama Gyurme and Jean-Philippe Rykiel.
“There are some wonderful albums in the catalog that still haven’t gone out as far in the world as we’d like them to,” says Real World Records founder Peter Gabriel. “I think there’s a different generation being exposed to world music now. We hope this will be an opportunity for the older listener to check out this music – rediscover old gems – and maybe first time discoveries for the younger folk!”
Lining up the likes of Simon Emmerson, Billy Bragg, Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, Benjamin Zephaniah, Chris Wood, Paul Weller, Sheila Chandra, The Gloworms, Tiger Moth, TransGlobal Underground, Tunng, Johnny Kalsi and The Copper Family seems like a mere fantasy, but that is exactly what The Imagined Village is all about. Daring to re-imagine, break down and remake English folk music, The Imagined Village careens headlong and hell bent on dragging traditional tunes through the modern streets of England, picking up the current flavors and textures of today’s English musicians. Now if you are a folk purist, this might not be the CD for you, but if you’re willing to jump on the genre bending, rip-roaring ride through the modern soundscape of English folk, then be prepared The Imagined Village will knock your socks off.
The Imagined Village is proof that good things happen when great musicians are left to their own devices. Opening with “John Barleycorn,” The Imagined Village band sets this traditional English tune ablaze with Martin Carthy on acoustic guitar, Paul Weller on electric guitar, Eliza Carthy on fiddle, Nigel Eaton on hurdy gurdy, and Simon Emmerson on cittern. Dipping into the exoticism of Rastafarian writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah and the extravagant richness of Trans-Global Underground, the dub retelling of “Tam Lyn” is darkly exhilarating with guitars, bouzouki, sitar and some sizzling programming. The edgy “Death and the Maiden” with Tunng and the thrilling “Cold Haily Rainy Night” with Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, Chris Wood, The Young Coppers and TransGlobal Underground do more than bend these tunes – they turn them inside out!
The CD just gets better with “The Welcome Sailor,” with the lovely vocals of Sheila Chandra and “Acres of Ground,” with its folksy swing punctuated by tabla and dhol drum by Johnny Kalsi. “Hard Times of Old England” with Billy Bragg, The Young Coppers, Eliza Carthy and Simon Emmerson and “Kit Whites I & II” with The Gloworms are infectiously wonderful. The bright and sassy “Slow on the Uptake” is a hair raising roundhouse slap of pure delight with Tiger Moth. “’Ouses, ‘Ouses, ‘Ouses” with vocals by John Copper and Sheila Chandra against a sea of guitar, cello, violin, bass, Northumbrian pipes, nickel harp, drones and keyboards is a precious piece of storytelling wrapped in a compelling composition that brings the past into the futures.
I have to admit that I’m partial to these “what if” collaborations with musicians scattered across the musical map. Songs on these type of collaborations tend to be fully realized and fully executed, some tracks stretching longer than the average MBA record exec would allow. There is also the collaborative spirit that seems to shine through on these types of recording, so that the listener can actually feel the expansive joy come through in the musicianship. The Imagined Village certainly possesses that heady mix of stellar musicianship and free flowing fusion of ideas and genres. The Imagined Village isn’t just about retelling or remaking English folk – it’s about glorious reinvention.
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.
London, UK – Folk Britannia continues with Daughters of Albion,
featuring June Tabor, Norma Waterson, Eliza Carthy, Kathryn Williams, Sheila Chandra & Lou Rhodes. Folk Britannia is a festival focusing on the rich and compelling history of traditional music of the UK. The concert will be held February3, 2006 at 19:30
at Barbican Hall.
Daughters of Albion brings together some of England’s finest female folk artists and contemporary singer-songwriters.
Connected by a strong sense of place, a certain wit and singularity of voice, these ’Daughters of Albion’ sing songs of experience, shot through with a deliciously dark seam of melancholy.
The evening features an imaginative set-list that puts ancient English folk ballads alongside West Country trip-hop, 21st century R&B and songs from beloved singer/songwriters, including Sandy Denny, Lal Waterson, Kirsty MacColl, Anne Briggs, Vashti Bunyan and Kate Bush.
MD + arrangements by Kate St John
Produced by the Barbican in association with Free Will Productions and BBC Four
Pioneering Producer Chris Blackwell (who helped make an international star of Bob Marley years ago) recently cemented a new partnership between his own Palm Pictures label and Universal Music Enterprises. The resulting collaboration, Palm World Voices, has taken on an ambitious first project- a combination CD and DVD set celebrating the sounds and visions of India. And while such a musically and culturally rich place can hardly be summed up in one neat package, Blackwell and Universal have succeeded in creating something quite stunning here.
Vedic Path (named for the course upon which personal and universal existence move along in a cyclic manner according to Hindu tradition) aims to be both educational and entertaining. To that end, the liner notes are extensive and informational without being stuffy and a detailed illustrated map provided by no less an authority than the National Geographic Society is included.
Not knowing as much as I ought to about India, I found it helpful to bone up with the liner notes and map before moving on to the music. Ah yes, the music- a very strong selection it is, ranging from the traditional stylings of familiar folk like Ravi Shankar to more fusion-minded stuff that brings in non-Indians like Dissidenten and John Wubbenhorst alongside such greats as . R. Rahman, Asha Bhosle and Sheila Chandra.
The DVD includes the same tracks as the CD, only this time with striking visuals of scenic vistas, celebrations on various scales, religious ceremonies, people going about their everyday life and more. A lot of ground is covered, and though it’s clear that no one is looking to ignore the fact that India remains beset by poverty and other ills, this admirable box set triumphs in projecting an uplifting, multifaceted picture of a country with a fascinating past and present that’s reflected in the music and spirit of its people and its influence on the world.
The release of Narada World’s Compilasian (The World of Indipop) comes as more of a sign of changes to come in the record industry than as the cutting edge music it boast.
For those readers not aware of the Indipop label, it is a cottage industry label created by producer Steve Coe who is also Sheila Chandra’s husband. Narada World recently licensed Indipop catalogue, including Sheila Chandra’s Indipop releases. And with the release of Compilasian, itself a compilation of unreleased tracks of the groups Monsoon, Sheila Chandra, The Ganges Orchestra, Jhalib and East West, comes with a piracy protection device, called Copy Control.
Only time will tell if this device actually puts more money in the hands of recording artists or acts as a trigger for more paranoia in the world.
The Copy Control actually comes with its own player and a symbol reflective of the big brother that is watching you. This could cause discomfort in even the most innocent record buyer, especially coming at a time when people believe that the government too is watching their every move. And by the way, as a journalist, I am here to get the word out on musicians and I do not condone piracy. However, I will also say that there is too much fear in the world and I am disappointed that so many establishments succumb to fear instead of spreading love on the planet. Trust is a derivative of love.
Protection and security are derivatives of fear (a gentle reminder).Now that I have released my reservations for this technology, I will get on with the review of this compilation.
According to the CD liner notes, Steve Coe, small, but influential label has enjoyed three decades of fun and independence while introducing the world to its most popular vocalist, Sheila Chandra. Indipop receives credit for being the forerunner of the Asian fusion music fostered in the UK.
Steve and the musicians who recorded on his projects modernized Indian music so that Western ears could relate to it and Western feet could dance to it. However, having grown up in an extremely mainstream community where I heard and appreciated Ravi Shankar’s ragas it’s difficult for me to understand why anyone would need to modernize Indian music.
Fortunately, the musicians on the recording also chose to explore new musical territory that married studio wizardry with the essence of Indian music. And these musicians have a lot of fun blazing musical trails and taking advantage of the liberation provided to them when working with a small and experimental label. And in fact, Chandra’s innovative songwriting and lush vocals matured out of these experiments.
The tracks feel more like a musical laboratory than actual songs. Phrases are often repeated similar to mantras, on the track, Strange Minaret, Sheila sings backwards recalling the Beatles White album. Outtakes for Crescent Silver Scythe and Ever So Lonely have been rehashed and a few other surprises crop up on the compilation. 11 (a number with spiritual inclinations that comes up a lot in my life), provides nature sounds, a moody organ and Sheila’s lovely vocals.
In the end, Compilasian will take its listeners on an unusual inner journey, complete with a soundtrack that promises to expand frontiers.
There’s no great hardship in reviewing a Sheila Chandra CD – it’s just a simple matter of slipping the CD in the player and allowing the waves of this miraculous voice to flow over you.
The latest from Ms Chandra is a compilation of previous recordings on Indipop Records on Narada World entitled The Indipop Retrospective. Anyone familiar with the British Indipop label will recognize her as one of its leaders. The compilation draws from such albums as Roots and Wings, Quiet and Out On My Own. Rich workings are the basis for this CD with multicultural influences from the Celtic, Indian raga and drone and pure pop.
In the opening track, “Lament of the McCrimmon/Song of the Banshee,” Ms Chandra’s voice, Enya-esque, drifts out of the mist with an unmistakable Indian flair. Soulful expressions lacing tracks “One” and “Om Shanti Om” surprise and can cause the tiny hairs to rise on the back of your neck they’re so good. It’s on tracks like “This” and “Prema, Shanti, Dharma, Satya” that Chandra’s voice flies and takes the listener along. “Village Girl” and “Crescent Silver Scythe” are the pure pop pieces of this collection, and though not my favorite, are very good. Also featured on the compilation is “Mien,” that revolves around a speech Ms Chandra gave in 1991 in Khazak at a music festival.
Some listeners might find some songs over-produced, but certainly not enough to detract from the beauty of Ms Chandra’s captivating voice. And, while I realize this is a compilation, extracting works from more 20 years in the business, there was no mention of the musicians or other vocalists in the liner notes. All in all, Sheila Chandra’s The Indipop Retrospective will delight old fans and earn her new ones.
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