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Nitin Sawhney - Human


Review: Jack Foley

MULTI-talented musician, Nitin Sawhney, describes his latest album, Human, as his most personal work to date - a sort of life journey, if you will, taking in everything from life, birth, and racism, in a way that's supposed to reflect the cultural diversity of living in London.

Sound pretentious? You bet; yet what could have been a painful, difficult listen, actually turns out to be one of the most uplifting and sinfully beautiful experiences of the year; an album rammed full of creative passion that is a vast, sweeping testament to why Sawhney is one of the most highly-respected musicians working in the UK music industry today.

Human is Sawhney's sixth album so far, and probably his most accessible, which is no mean feat given the number of musical influences it incorporates - from R&B, trip-hop, jazz and flamenco, through to drum 'n' bass, chill out and electro.

Benefiting greatly from some ultra-slick production values (not usually a hallmark of the Sawhney sound), the album is an intoxicating blend of styles, all of which are boosted by some excellent guest vocals and some timely samples.

Things begin in fine style with The River, a slinky R&B backed number that supposedly signifies pre-birth, like the River Ganges (where you have the cycle of life and death).

Featuring a sublime vocal turn from Alani (who is currently touring with Blur), the album then travels through the defining moments of Sawhney's life, taking in his difficult childhood, during which he was surrounded by racism (the National Front leafleted outside his school, while his music teacher turned out to be a racist), before emerging the other side with a growing sense of optimism.

Sawhney readily confesses to having reached a point where he wanted to question what the world has become (see feature), but has chosen to do it through the medium of music, rather than standing on a stage and giving it large in front of everyone. As a result, the message is far more effective.

Tracks such as Waiting (O Mistress Mine) begins with a news sample about the coming war in Iraq, before giving way into a haunting slice of country-inspired hip-hop, featuring a fragile, almost lamenftul vocal turn from Zubin Varla (from the stage version of 'Midnight's Children') that incorporates words from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

It is designed as a 'farewell to youth' and is performed in such a way as to evoke memories of Zero 7's I Have Seen (featuring vocals from Mozez).

Likewise, Promise begins with an excerpt from Margaret Thatcher's 'the creation of wealth is the fundament of all social services' speech, before ploughing into a piece of electronica about the horrors of materialism.

Yet in both instances, the heavy subject matter doesn't become overbearing, rather it is a joy to listen to on so many levels.

Indeed, Human is one of those albums which keeps delivering the more you listen to it, particularly in the number of different instruments being used. The better your sound system, the more satisfying the listen.

And we haven't even begun talking about the album's highpoints, which come courtesy of Say Hello, a quite beautiful record, containing fragments of speeches from Enoch Powell and Martin Luther King, which seduces, courtesy of Tina Grace's sultry, down-tempo vocals, and Bengali vocalist, Jayanta Bose's sound of spiritual yearning.

It is a track which was borne out of a young Sawhney's attempts to fit in when, as a child arriving at his new school, he didn't know who to speak to because he was white. In that sense, it is achingly sad, yet poignantly moving to boot.

And finally, there's Falling, his collaboration with Aqualung's Matt Hales - a shimmering single that is described by Sawhney as a cross between Indian raag and The Who. It probably rates as his most anthemic track to date and really ought to bring the album the massive listener base it deserves.

That said, and given the mixture of styles present, there will be those who won't appreciate its diversity (not every track works as effectively as it might), as the record feels more like a soundtrack than the work of the same artist.

But that's being churlish for this is, in a word, stunning.

 

Track listing:
1. The River
2. Eastern Eyes (feat. Natacha Atlas)
3. Say Hello
4. Falling Angels
5. Falling (feat. Aqualung)
6. Heer
7. Fragile Wind
8. Promise
9. Chetan Jeevan (Conscious Life)
10. Rainfall
11. Waiting (O Mistress Mine)
12. Raag
13. The Boatman

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