In America we had 9/11. In Britain, it was 7/7. On July 7, 2005, terrorists detonated three bombs on London subway trains (known to locals as “the Underground”), and a fourth bomb on a double decker bus. London Undersound (2008), therefore, is a musical response to 7/7.
Nitin Sawhney has been one of the leading figures in the “Asian underground” music scene since the 1990’s, though the scope of his artistry is considerably wider than this label implies. Classically trained in piano and flamenco guitar, Sawhney also studied sitar, and is fluent in jazz. He has conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, and as a DJ he has mixed manifold genres such as Afro-beat, dubstep, and Asian breakbeat.
Sawhney’s musical background therefore ideally positioned him to formulate a musical response to the attacks in London, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.
Once his breakthrough album Beyond Skin (1999) won the South Bank Show Award, Sawhney found himself in high demand, collaborating with the likes of Brian Eno, Shakira, and Nelson Mandela. He was therefore able to draw on a vast reservoir of talent when assembling Undersound, with sundry figures such as Anoushka Shankar and Paul McCartney.
Undersound – not surprisingly – embraces a vast multitude of musical styles. There’s the reggae-influenced “Days of Fire”, the smoky bossa-nova of “Distant Dreams”, and “Daybreak”, an intriguing mixture of Teental lyrics and breakbeats, to name just a few.
Interspersed between the songs are a number of spoken-word “Interludes” (including government minister Jack Straw’s controversial statement that he’d prefer Muslim women to not wear veils).
The term “world music” is thrown around all too often among music circles. However Nitin Sawhney’s London Undersound is one album which is truly global.
**** (out of four)