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
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
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.
1. The River
2. Eastern Eyes (feat. Natacha Atlas)
3. Say Hello
4. Falling Angels
5. Falling (feat. Aqualung)
7. Fragile Wind
9. Chetan Jeevan (Conscious Life)
11. Waiting (O Mistress Mine)
13. The Boatman