Nitin Sawhney - London Undersound
Thu 16th Oct, 2008 Music Reviewsin
Always known for bridging the gap between the sounds of the east and the sounds of the west, Nitin Sawhney provides us with his latest collection of inventive culture with his eighth studio album London Undersound. Classically trained but constantly exploring music in all its forms, Sawhney has created an almost chillout style album with the help of many outspoken artists; so not surprisingly Paul McCartney, and sculptor Antony Gormley who created much of the artwork found in the album.
Ultimately the aim of London Undersound was to explore how fear has changed London since the events on 9/11 but particularly the 7/7 London bombings of 2005. Yes, it is a political album but one that seems to be long overdue. The collaborations within the album allows for multiple artistic viewpoints on the evolution of London.
To begin, Days of Fire is a dreamy journey home. Reggae singer Natty speaks of somber realizations about how the citizens of the capital, and himself personally, have been affected by 7/7 and other disasters. He describes how the small things, such as the places where children used to play, were tainted.
The dreamy ride continues through to October Daze and then into Bring It Home sung with the distinctive vocals of Imogen Heap over a drum n’ bass beat. My Soul (featuring Paul Macca) begins the introduction of the east with the washing of vocals of a Hindi girl in the background.
One of my favourite moment comes from Daybreak, featuring Faheem Mazhar over a breakbeat that flows into a quote from British politician Jack Straw and how when interviewing female Muslims he will “… ask them if they would mind removing the veil…”. If that doesn’t get the message through loud and clear the piano ballad Ek Jaan (meaning ‘One Life’), does so in a subliminal way. Although I cannot translate the lyrics, the message in her voice is soaked in ritual and culture.
Commercially, Last Train to Midnight is considered dubstep and features the daughter of Cream’s bass player, but both Transmission and Last Train to Midnight remind me of classic Massive Attack and could be slotted nicely into Mezzanine, although it would be criminal to touch that album. Transmission challenges the numbing affect of media and television and screams at me to utilize one of my favourite Bill Hicks quotes: “Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye.”
So for most of the first part of the album you will probably find yourself dreaming away with the ambient rhythms. Although this doesn’t stop popping up throughout the album, the second half is much more intriguing with a heavier influence of a popularized Indian culture, especially in the final two tracks. Charu Keshi Rain, makes use of a traditional raag originally by Ravi Shankar, famous for instructing George Harrison on the use of the sitar. And who better than his very own daughter Anoushka Shankar to play it?
Here we have an album that, while outlining the devastation of the past still manages to sooth and, in the words of Sawhney himself, “… be purifying as well.”