Weaving My Ancestors' Voices

Sheila Chandra, 1992

Sheila Chandra is the only Asian singer to have had mainstream chart success in the UK in the 1980s. 'Ever So Lonely', Monsoon's Top Ten hit of 1982, and her subsequent five solo albums have been instrumental in introducing new audiences to the sounds of another culture as pop music. Here she explores the musical territories of her spiritual ancestors, drawing upon South Indian, Celtic, Spanish and Muslim influences. The recording concentrates on the purity and emotional intensity of Sheila's extraordinary voice.

'The ancestors of this album are spiritual, those singers that have gone before me and provide me with my inspiration. Interestingly enough none of my family in India were professional singers and, although within that culture people sang more freely in everyday life, the 'ancestors' here could not be genetic ones!' Some people seem to be interested in analysing the differences between different cultures and traditions. I'm interested in comparing the similarities and weaving them together, to take threads of thought that come from different techniques and singers and weave them into my own pattern.

'The voice is the first and ultimate instrument, it is the one means of expression used by every culture. Although different instruments often have relationships with each other across the continents, they come in different forms, they are played differently... but the voice remains biologically the same across all people. The means by which it is used, the sounds different peoples choose to emulate, is fascinating. The voice is connected to your blood supply! Because of this biological relationship, it is always going to be closer to your instinct, your soul and your emotion, rather than your intellect. The spirit of my ancestors is more accessible to me via the voice, it links into all cultures throughout time.

'One culture's way of expressing something is just as valid as another's. I am fortunate to live in a time when a century of recordings of great singers from around the world are available to me, hearing their means of expression enriches my own.

' On this album I've drawn upon a lot of musical traditions, it makes me feel strong to absorb these influences and yet remain an individual. I chose to record a simple voice and drone album because I wanted to say that 'fusion' doesn't just happen when you put different instruments from different cultures together or even if you layer different vocal styles, it can happen in one voice, one mind.

'I was born and brought up in England by my Indian family, and growing up I felt a great gap, an absence of roots and a context in which to place myself. In England I was surrounded by cultural stereotypes and images of the 'English rose' and knew I was never going to be like that. I was always an obsessive singer and when my adult voice developed, it was in a low register. In most Western traditions it is felt a woman's voice needs to be high but, to my great relief, I discovered that in the Asian tradition it is quite acceptable for a woman to have either a high or low range. My vocal technique developed from there with an instinctive interest in ornamentation. I then found something which was 'home', and for me music is home. That is where I express my intention most accurately.

'For me, this album is also a statement about going beyond Asian fusion. I do not want to be an Indian living museum piece here in England. Although I'm passionate about Asian music and culture, and though I involve the knowledge I have of Asian structure in my work, this album is more of a statement about me as a 'world citizen'. I believe that my heritage comes not specifically from my own culture. I believe I am a spiritual heir to a universal form of inspiration.'

Sheila Chandra 1992


  • ...always sumptuously beautiful. always sumptuously beautiful. The album unfolds slowly, like a strange and lovely dream. cdhotlist.com (Online)
  • ..This is a breathtaking tapestry of uncommon beauty. 15 April 1993 Chicago Tribune (USA)
  • This is sensual and spiritual music in which the voice rarely has been so naked, and so radiant... It’s as near to God as music gets. John Diliberto
  • ...simply beautiful. While her solo work and early music with Monsoon were daring, Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices goes beyond daring to simply beautiful. CMJ (1993) (USA)
  • Already well known to world music connoisseurs, Chandra could also attain modern-rock play with this sharply produced set. Billboard (1993) (USA)
  • .. soothing and smoothly produced. She also makes her point: A drone isn’t always a bore. Musician (1993) (USA)