Classic Sheila Chandra trilogy set for re-issue

Real World Records are delighted to announce the re-issue of a British Asian World Music pioneer Sheila Chandra’s landmark trilogy of solo voice albums on 16th June. These austerely beautiful records forged a new global vocal vision out of a re-imagining of myriad vocal traditions - and sound just as radical and passionate now, as they did when they were first released, 30 years ago. Unable to make music any longer, Chandra regards them as the pinnacle of her creative career.

The first re-issue is Chandra’s 1992 debut for Real World Records; Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices which begins the series that cements her as one of the most accomplished musicians and writers of her generation. On this exquisite album, which celebrates the ultimate instrument — the voice — she explores the territories of her spiritual ancestors by flawlessly intertwining vocal traditions from around the world.

The biggest selling album on Real World at that time, it includes a solo voice reinterpretation of Chandra’s first single ‘Ever So Lonely’ — a startlingly fresh, lushly layered, ear worm of a pop song which became a huge global hit in 1982 and saw her performing on the BBC’s flagship chart show ‘Top of the Pops’. In the early eighties, no-one had ever seen a British Asian singer dressed in a sari with a teardrop tilak singing a catchy raga-based pop song on television. Though the track — which prefigured the World Music genre by five years — was an acoustic island in a sea of synth, for the first time a UK Asian diaspora sound was fashionable, and Chandra’s boundary-breaking career began.

Through the 90s, Chandra ensured that Steve Coe, her co-writer and producer, paid equal attention to detail to the trilogy in the studio.

Solo voice work can be a challenging listen. Steve took 16 hours to mix each vocal track, since the voice was so central. People had never listened to such lavishly crafted naked vocals, or bothered to treat voice like that before, not even in the most sophisticated studios in the world. Sheila Chandra

This can be heard to great effect on the second re-issue The Zen Kiss which was recorded in 1994. It seamlessly interweaves strands of traditional English folk, Iberian and Celtic song, Gregorian chant, and yearning laments. These time-honoured vocal techniques are then wrapped in the most cutting-edge studio techniques – especially on the machine-gun-fire, vocal percussion ‘Speaking in Tongues’ showstoppers.

The third re-issue is ABoneCroneDrone recorded in 1996, Chandra’s most radically experimental solo voice work and the closing chapter of her trilogy of albums for Real World.  The six tracks are a window on Chandra’s innermost creative world — an unexpectedly original examination of the usually taken-for-granted but essential element of Indian tradition, the drone itself.

After her time with Real World, Chandra returned to the Indipop label to produce a deliberately less sweet-sounding and challenging collaboration with the Ganges Orchestra on This Sentence Is True in 2001 and worked with the multicultural English folk supergroup The Imagined Village in 2007.  Yet, the Real World albums have a poignant significance, because they document a vocal genius at the height of her powers making her final solo voice recordings. Diagnosed with Burning Mouth Syndrome in 2009 — a condition that causes excruciating and long-lasting pain when she sings or talks  Chandra was forced to retire from performance and recording.

I can't listen back to these records nowadays in case I am tempted to sing along, as it would be agony. I am delighted that Real World Records are reissuing the albums of which I'm most proud. They are a true reflection of me personally. They don't sound like any other Asian musician who was making music at the time, and I very much doubt that they sound like any other musician now. Sheila Chandra

Listening to these radiant records today, they are proof of Chandra’s pure joy in musical exploration, and they stand as an example of what the music of all cultures should be: the individual giving voice to herself, as well as the universality of emotions that make us all human, no matter what our native musical language. And as Billboard acknowledged in 2001, this extraordinary artist’s ground-breaking experimental work paved the way for many others.

Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices, The Zen Kiss, and ABoneCroneDroneThe three classic albums by Sheila Chandra for Real World — are re-issued on 16 June 2023 on CD and LP. Weaving… and ABoneCroneDrone come with new cover art and all releases have new artwork design and sleeve notes.


Featured releases

  • Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices

    Sheila Chandra

    Released 10 May 1992

    On her Real World debut Sheila Chandra explores the musical territories of her spiritual ancestors, drawing upon South Indian, Celtic, Spanish and Muslim influences. This album concentrates on the purity and emotional intensity of Chandra’s extraordinary voice.
  • The Zen Kiss

    Sheila Chandra

    Released 02 May 1994

    An extraordinary exploration of pure vocal power and sensual expression, The Zen Kiss is a highly personal vision of a woman working on the boundaries of convention.
  • ABoneCroneDrone

    Sheila Chandra

    Released 22 September 1996

    This album, the third in her trilogy for Real World, gives you the fullest access possible to Sheila Chandra’s imagination — its melodies are within the bones of the drones.

By Online Editor

Main image: Sheila Chandra. Photo credit: Aditya Bhattacharya.

Published on Fri, 28 April 23

Further reading

Classic Sheila Chandra trilogy set for re-issue

British Asian World Music pioneer Sheila Chandra’s landmark trilogy of albums set for re-issue.

Afro-futurist sensations Onipa announce forthcoming album Off The Grid; share ‘No Commando’

The album features an impressive cast of collaborators including Moonchild Sanelly and David Walters

Track of the day: ‘Steal’ by Bob Holroyd. Remixed by Luca Bacchetti

Originally released as part of the Mangled Pianos single last summer, ‘Steal’ has been reworked...

Sheila Chandra: The pursuit of radical vocal expression

Sheila's trilogy of albums for Real World is being re-issued on CD, and on vinyl for the first time.