One would imagine an apt way to describe UK based musician Nitin Sawhney would be to call him an exponential talent in world music. What else to say for a world-class producer, songwriter, DJ, multi-instrumentalist and orchestral composer. Except that there’s a slight problem — Nitin despises the term “world music”. The musician, who has collaborated with the likes of Paul McCartney, Sting, Anoushka Shankar, Shakira and even Nelson Mandela amongst many others, was in the country recently, to speak at the TEDxGateway. Explaining his resentment towards the term “world music”, the third time TED speaker says, “It’s a stupid, condescending term, designed to marginalise people. It’s about a cultural apartheid, which often lumps in together everything the Western media finds difficult to absorb, because of the innate racism.”
A large part of creating music has got to do with losing ego, Nitin says. The musician, who has recently produced Anoushka’s album Traces of You, says, “The whole concept of raag is about finding mood. We don’t sit and decide what raag to play, we just say what feeling do we want to get to and let the music talk emotionally. In a way it’s about losing ego sometimes. When you are working as a musician or any artist at all, it’s like what Michelangelo said: The statue was hidden in the stone. There is something divine that is around us all the time. If we are channeling something that’s communing with that divine flow, then something interesting emerges.”
Having worked with many legends, Nitin is a treasure trove of anecdotes. He fondly recalls his times with Paul McCartney, especially that one day when he had a jam with Paul and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. “We were at Paul’s house, he was singing and I was playing the piano. And David was actually playing the saxophone because his son was learning it at that time. It’s one of my best memories with Paul.” There was another time when the McCartney came to his house. “Yesterday is one of my favourite songs and he played it to me on my guitar the first time he came to my house.” Nitin worked with McCartney on a track called My Soul. “He quoted the idea that in certain African cultures, they believe that when you are photographed, somebody steals your soul. That was the beginning point of My Soul. It was a lovely collaboration, because it came from a conversation, and a feeling he had while being hounded by the press after his breakup from Heather Mills. In that respect it was an honest piece of work. He’s a great artist.”
Among Nitin’s several ongoing projects is the score for Jungle Book Origins, that is due to release in 2017. He has also just released an album Dystopian Dream. He’s also producing Helene Grimaud, who is currently among the top four classical pianists in the world. Among the many things he likes to do to unwind, mathematics is one of them. He uses it for work too. Nitin recalls how he once used calculus to create music for the 1927 Alfred Hitchcock silent movie The Lodger. As we try to get our heads around the musical powers of calculus, he continues, “I am very interested in Physics and Mathematics. As a composer it’s really important to inform yourself about the world. So your music doesn’t become stagnant or static.”
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