Socialist Worker

Nitin Sawhney: 'From oppression comes expression'

Issue No. 1788

Nitin Sawhney recently received an award in Radio 3's celebration of world music. His response was to criticise the idea of world music: 'The whole category of 'world music' is about apartheid in record shops. 'Terminology which marginalises people on the basis of their cultural heritage I find deeply racist and condescending.'

He has a point. The label world music lumps together music that cannot be easily classified in European or American traditions. Fifteen years ago music from non-European cultures was being encouraged by musicians such as Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. Much of this music might be labelled as traditional music.

On the other hand, musicians like Fela Kuti and Bob Marley were gutsy political rockers. Sawhney comes from a newer tradition in that line. His music blends Indian traditional sounds, flamenco, rap and drum & bass. Sawhney's sounds reflect the mixed cultural influences of young people who have grown up with Asia behind them and a present and future in Britain.

When Sawhney was in school in the 1970s he was barred from the music room by a racist teacher. His response is to say, 'From oppression comes expression.' The music is both spiritual and vibrant, pulling in samples of urban sounds from around the world. It draws on religious sounds, and the heady throbbing beats of the club scene. There are others developing this music.

Talvin Singh has fused traditional Indian tabla drums with clubland beats with an Asian rhythm. His last CD carried a picture of a young Asian wearing a parka, but the colours of the target symbol were from the Indian flag, not the Union Jack. This is the music of Britain in 2002.

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Sat 23 Feb 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1788
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