Sunday, August 25, 2013

Susheela Raman ...Rejoicing the fender-bender of Musical Cultures

Susheela Raman World Fusion Music Artist
Susheela Raman

‘How many roads have I wandered/none and each my own/behind me the bridges have crumbled/where then will I call my home?’

That is the resonant challenge at the Centre of Raman’s music. She creates a new identity though her voice, culture and song. Raman is Indian, Tamil, Eng-lish, a Londoner, a European, An Asian and Australian to boot! Born in London to Tamil parents and raised in Australia she grew up in a home full of Carnatic music (the South Indian classical tradition). Teenage rebellion led her towards black American soul, blues and funk and at just 16 she was leading her own funk and soul band in Sydney. In ´97 she moved to London and met guitarist and producer Sam Mills renowned for his work with African and Bangladeshi musicians. They started to develop a new sound drawing on Indian and western influences and encompassing English songs, Sanskrit texts, their own compositions and reinventions of songs from the Carnatic repertoire. Three years of rich experimentation resulted in “Salt Rain”, her Mercury Music Prize nominated 2001 debut.
World music's latest darling and 2002 winner of the BBC Radio 3's Newcomer Award, Susheela Raman flipped the script on world music hybrids when she released Salt Rain in 2001. The album was everything you could want in a cross-genre effort: intelligent, nuanced and, best of all, never watered down. As an artist Raman continues to develop, exploring issues of identity with new sounds that celebrate multiplicity. She draws her collaborators from across Europe, Asia and Africa: Cameroonian bassist Hilaire Penda, Guinea-Bissau born percussionist Djanuno Dabo, American drummer Marque Gilmore, British-Asian tabla player Aref Durvesh and of course British guitarist and producer Sam Mills are at the heart of this album as they were Salt Rain. And again this record is about great songs imaginatively played and beautifully sung. If Raman’s voice on Salt Rain had a charming, perishable naivety and Love Trap reflected the strains of touring, Raman’s voice here serves notice of an artist entering her prime, her singing richer and stronger than ever before.

Paradoxically, the record is, both more English and more Indian than Salt Rain and Love Trap. More than half the songs are in English (her first language) and Raman emerges as a formidable songwriter. And where on the previous albums there were musicians from everywhere playing Indian songs, here we have musicians from India playing songs in English. A new dimension came from recording in India, as well as in the UK and France. The Indian presence adds joy, light and depth to the record. Oddly, this is her first record to feature musicians from India.

Susheela Raman World Fusion Music Artist
Susheela Raman World Fusion Music Artist

 It’s difficult to say where the Indian, African and European elements begin and end. Everything overlaps and intermingles. With a justified reputation as an incandescent live performer, Susheela has made five classic albums: After ‘Salt Rain” (2001) came ‘Love Trap’ (2003) which was recorded in Spain and featured her version of ‘ the Mukesh classic ‘Ye Mera Divanapan Hai’ which was used by Mira Nair in her film “The Namesake”. ‘Music for Crocodiles’ (2005)  was her third album and was recorded partly in Chennai. That was the time I really started to make music in India, an adventure that is still unfolding. She took a interesting step in 2007, recording ‘33 1/3’ in Iceland (!) which was an album of reinterpretations of some classic rock tracks such as Dylan ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, and ‘Voodoo Chile’: It wasn’t about doing ‘covers’, it was about trying to take each song somewhere quite different. All her albums chart a personal relationship with musical history and her own role as a conduit where musical oceans meet. Each Susheela album is a big vision that retains its freshness and uniqueness for a long time to come. “I find new people are discovering, sharing my previous album all the time. I’m glad each has their own life.”

Susheela has always made music a vehicle of emotion with the same intensity of purpose that she offers herself and her music and to her audience. The songs she writes and interpret can come from any background, east, north, south or west. The key is that she makes them her own and then shares them, fashioning both into spears that penetrate the soul.

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