Nitin Sawhney’s Beyond Skin in the era of Brexit and Trump

By Anu Jose

I last interviewed Nitin Sawhney for this newspaper back in 2001 for his Australian tour of ”˜Prophecy’. He struck me as intelligent, thought provoking, with a desire to challenge and involve the listener. A deep thinker and a man who wasn’t afraid to share his opinions on topics others may shy away from. On the eve of his world tour of ”˜Beyond Skin ”“ Revisited’ I chatted to Nitin Sawhney once again.

Two decades on, the themes of ”˜Beyond Skin’ are even more relevant today. Twenty years ago, ”˜Beyond Skin’ explored India’s nuclear testing, nationality, identity, religion, and immigration. The album was a combination of Indian classical music, flamenco, acoustic drum and bass, hip hop and jazz. With the chaos, the world has found itself in Nitin says, ”˜This is the 20th anniversary of Beyond Skin and I feel that with Brexit in England, Trump in America accompanied by the rise of nationalism and bigotry, we have really gone back in time.  Beyond Skin feels as relevant today as it was when I created it.  It is a polemic ode against bigotry, hatred and the use of nationality and religion to define us and our identities’.

Asked if he thinks we have regressed as humans, he is quite upfront, ”˜I think Trump is symptomatic of us regressing as the human race’. He goes on to say ”˜Sadly, with Donald Trump in power in the White House I do feel that the world has regressed in many ways as there has never been somebody so inherently abhorrent given so much power.  The man is a proven racist and misogynist.  It concerns me greatly that he is being given the amount of power he has, and I feel he jeopardises the whole of the human race with his attitude and ignorance on climate change alone.’

Nitin Sawhney is well aware of issues outside his own home, he feels race is a huge issue in Australia. With the recent airing of the Adam Goodes documentary ”˜The Final Quarter’ and the discussion this has sparked, Sawhney is not wrong. He is concerned about Aboriginal rights and also immigration and attitudes to immigrants both here and in the UK. He thinks there has been a definite rise in racism and xenophobia over the last few years. In his upcoming tour of Australia he is hoping to meet and play with some Aboriginal tribal elders.

Nitin has always been proud of where he comes from. He has embraced his heritage and culture and it has influenced his music. He feels very connected to India and tries to go there at least once a year. ”˜I think India has many issues.  I am concerned over the rise of nationalism there and also the rise of religious bigotry.  Moreover, I feel that the huge poverty divide is still not anywhere near sufficiently being addressed’. He admits to being less emphatic about issues of nationality, heritage and identity now than what he used to be.

Sawhney enjoys music from all different cultures and prefers not to use the term world music. ”˜I try to broaden the palette of my musical understanding as much as possible and incorporate that knowledge into the way in which I work’. In the past he has mentioned a range of musical influences from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Ravi Shankar to The Doors and Massive Attack, ”˜I am always listening to different Indian classical musicians and young, up and coming artists.   However, I remain more influenced by life experience and catharsis than I am of other musicians and artists.   I am less and less influenced by music and increasingly influenced by what it is that I want to say’.

Nitin Sawhney trained as a classical pianist and continues to play classical music daily – Chopin, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Satie. He recently produced the great classical pianist Helene Grimaud for her last two albums on Deutsche Gramophone.

For someone with a varied career, television, theatre, movie scores, albums, he says ”˜Music is my language’. He tells me he spends a lot more time making music than he does speaking!

In ”˜Prophesy’, Sawhney talks about technology being a drug which is an accurate description for today’s social media obsessed world. Asking Sawhney about this, he says ”˜I think social media is part of the drug of technology.  I feel we are distracted from reality and human consequences in a way a lot of right-wing bigots have been allowed to exploit.  If we paid more attention to what is going on around us rather than the trivial aspects of social media, we would probably have a much better world’.

When he isn’t making music, he spends his time kickboxing, seeing films, playing chess, reading books, going to the theatre and hanging out with friends. He is working on a number of upcoming projects and is about to sign his first major record deal, ”˜This is huge for me as I have never been with a major record company before, only big independent labels’.

Catch Nitin Sawhney ”˜Beyond Skin ”“ Revisited’ in Adelaide for the  OzAsia Festival October 17, Home of the Arts in the Gold Coast October 19 and the Melbourne International Arts Festival October 20.

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