Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices

Sheila Chandra

Released 11 May 1992

  1. Speaking In Tongues I
  2. Dhyana And Donalogue
  3. Nana
  4. The Dreaming
  5. Ever So Lonely / Eyes / Ocean
  6. The Enchantment
  7. The Call
  8. Bhajan
  9. Speaking In Tongues II
  10. Sacred Stones
  11. Om Namaha Shiva

Liner notes

‘Most traditions include the components of drone, either heard or implied, and ornaments for the voice. Where are the boundaries? I feel gratitude for all those singers who’ve inspired me— from among them I claim a new set of ancestors and give them voice.’

Sheila Chandra is the only Asian singer to have had mainstream chart success in the UK in the 80s. ‘Ever So Lonely’, Monsoon’s top ten hit of ’82 and her subsequent five solo albums have been instrumental in getting audiences around the world to accept the sounds and structures of another culture as pop music. After Monsoon, Sheila forged an independent career choosing to experiment with her voice, exploring it as an instrument and pioneering new possibilities for Asian fusion music.

‘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 ancestor’s 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 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 people 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, you soul and you 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.’

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 ancestor’s here could not be genetic ones! Sheila Chandra

‘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 women’s voice needs to be high but, to my great relief, I discovered that in the Asian tradition it is quite acceptable for a women 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 structures 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.’

Speaking In Tongues I

This is the fastest and most ambitious piece of spoken percussion I’ve attempted. The sound/syllables relate to Mrdingam and Tabla and draw upon the patterns of rhythm used in South Indian dance.

The reference in the title to a sort of ‘divine possession’ links into the Indian idea that all artists are channelling the divine. It also refers to the idiosyncratic ‘madness’ that I wanted to be a characteristic of the piece.

 

Dhyana and Donalogue

Donalogue is an ancient Irish ballad from about 1000AD to which I’ve added a new verse and changed some of its male-centred lyrics— the sentiment doesn’t seem to suffer!

The additional weaving of a Muslim style vocal into the piece leaves me wondering where the ornaments of each tradition begin and end.

 

Nana

A Spanish lullaby which Manuel de Falla adapted for piano and voice. Not surprisingly it works over a drone and this, with my additional vocal ornaments, enables the listener to relate it back to the Moorish (Islamic) influences of Spain.

 

The Dreaming

This track relates to Nana in that I’m using the same raga (scale) to explore further the same emotion. The track contains Soul-style phrases within the main body of the North Indian-style vocal and back-references to the Spanish melodies in Nana.

 

Ever So Lonely/Eyes/Ocean

These songs are all based on the same raga (or tone row, ie C E F G Bb) and are unified by the drone. The mood of the raga is traditionally one of longing.

I sang both ‘Ever So Lonely’ and ‘Eyes’ on Monsoon’s album Third Eye in 1982. Recently Steve (Coe) wrote Ocean for me. It feels natural to weave the three songs since they have come through the same writer, the same raga, and the same singer.

Sheila performs 'Ever So Lonely/Eyes/Ocean' at World in the Park, Bath in 1993

Bhajan

The guitar drone gives these ancient pieces an anthemic feel. Bhajan means ‘hymn’.

 

The Call

Sung in the style of the muezzin in Islamic culture. This sound focused, forceful and nasal. If you ‘soften’ the sound it brings you towards the vocal approach of Soul or Andalucian musics. All three styles share key vocal ornaments.

 

The Enchantment

This piece is a fusion of structure rather than of obvious sounds or techniques. An Indian classical singer will often improvise around a simple ‘ghat’ (four lines of lyrics and melody which illustrate the chosen raga and its emotion) by breaking up the phrases to show the singer’s skill and dexterity. Here I’ve used the four line verses of a British folk song and kept to the usual ornaments of that tradition. Because the British folk tradition is so much more familiar to people in the west, this song sheds light on what listening to a Asian ghat with full understanding of the lyrics and musical form might be like..

 

Sacred Stones

Somewhere all of us intuitively understand the links between ancient musics, that is, that drone and chanting are at the root of all musics.

The act of chanting is like throwing a stone into a lake— however small the stone is, the ripples (vibration) it creates affect the whole lake. I believe that making sound can make you ‘sound’ (whole).

 

Speaking In Tongues II

The changes of pace in this track allow more room for creative use of delays and ‘reverbs’, on the spoken syllables.

Indian vocal percussion is a teaching device for drummers, but has become an art form in its own right. Drawing on the traditions of vocal percussion, but not limited by them. I have been developing their possibilities throughout my solo career. They somehow tell a story beyond the fun it is to say them. Play part I and II together for the full effect.

 

Om Namaha Shiva

An ancient chant, a new melody. Shiva is a destroyer of ignorance. I find the ‘clever’ part of me wants the chant to ‘go somewhere’— instead I listen to the harmonics the chant creates, or just to its fragile simplicity… One for all of you to join in with at home!

Reviews

  • Already well known to world music connoisseurs, Chandra could also attain modern-rock play with this sharply produced set. Billboard (USA)
  • This is a breathtaking tapestry of uncommon beauty Chicago Tribune (USA)

Listen

Credits

Produced by Steve Coe

Mixing Engineer Stuart Bruce; Assistant Mixing Engineer Ben Findlay; Mixed at Real World Studios February 1992, except ‘Om Namaha Shiva’ mixed at The Coachouse; Recorded at The Coachouse, Clifton Bristol; Recorded by Andy Allen between December 1991 and January 1992, except ‘The Call’, ‘Ever So Lonely/Eyes/Ocean’ and ‘The Dreaming’, recorded by Stuart Bruce at Real World Studios, February 1992; Mastered by Ian Cooper at The Town House, London.

All drones played or sung by Steve Coe and Sheila Chandra, except Bhajan, all guitars played by Stuart Bruce.

All songs written and arranged by Steve Coe and Sheila Chandra except ‘Nana’ by Manuel de Falla, ‘Eyes’ by M Smith/S Coe, ‘Ever So Lonely’ by S Coe. Published by Moonsung Music except ‘Nana’ (SGAE), ‘Eyes’ (Indipop/Virgin), ‘Ever So Lonely’ (Indipop/Virgin).

Original Design and Art Direction by Kasper de Graaf. Photography (front cover) by Jo Swann.

Further Listening

  • Rain of Blessings: Vajra Chants

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    Released 06 March 2000

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  • Untold Things

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    Released 21 February 2001

    Encouraged by Real World's penchant for blurring boundaries, Jocelyn Pook channelled her trademark combination of classicism and innovation into an exhilarating gem of an album, one which pulls off that rare coup of putting listeners in touch with their deeper feelings.

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