British Asian musician, composer, actor, comedian.
Could he be any more talented? His music reflects the juxtaposition of cultures that characterises Britain today. Combining traditional Indian styles, with sounds as diverse as drum and bass, samba, flamenco guitar, hip hop and acid jazz into beautifully crafted aural gems, the music does not seem confused in its eclecticism, as could so easily happen when working with such a broad range of influences. The tabla, turntable and Fender Rhodes all have a place in his music.
Not content with making some of the most innovative music in the UK today, Nitin Sawhney is also the co-creator of one of the most successful and critically acclaimed British TV comedies of recent years. Goodness Gracious Me started as a double act with his flatmate, and was commissioned by the BBC, first for Radio 4 where it won a Sony Award, then making the inevitable transition to television. Nitin wrote many of the sketches as well as performing, and, of course, writing the theme music. The show is now syndicated worldwide.
He is also a prolific film, TV and theatrical composer.
- Spirit Dance (1993)
- Migration (1995)
His first release on the Outcaste label, this included vocals by Natacha Atlas.
- Displacing the Priest (1996)
- Beyond Skin (1999)
Taking as its central theme the nuclear testing conducted by India, as well as his continuing reflections of his identity as a British Asian, this was the album which brought Nitin Sawhney to the attention of a wider audience. Featuring samples from J. Robert Oppenheimer's famous speech after the detonation of the first atomic bomb, in which he quotes the Bhagavad Gita, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds" as well as news reports and interviews with Sawhney's father, it manages to be political without preaching, and the music is beautiful. The album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2000 and won the South Bank Show Award. It includes the sublime vocals of Nina Miranda from Smoke City. If you want to discover his work, start here, I did! The other albums, (that I've heard) are good, but this is still the best.
- Prophesy (2001)
Remaining on top form, this is another eclectic blend of beats, breaks, melodies and qawwali. The strand that runs through this album is the madness that surrounded Y2K, as well as the onward march of technology.
- Human (2003)
Although much of his work is very political, as Nitin puts it, you don't have to agree with his politics to enjoy his music.
Nitin Sawhney is very good live, and puts on a lavish performance with a large band and many talented performers. He is usually accompanied by JC001, a fast talking Irish Asian MC who is in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the world's fastest rapper. His human beatbox skills are astounding, and add an extra edge to the performances. The most recent performance that I saw was particularly poignant. It was the night that the US and UK had launched the first attacks on Afghanistan, and the show started with a solitary vocalist, backdropped with visuals mixed with live shots of the bombing from BBC News 24. It was a moving moment, and seemed appropriate.