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TIME OUT

THE SOUND OF SILENCE


Sheila Chandra explores the human voice

May 2001

Story: John Lewis
 



TIME OUT

The new album, the bafflingly titled 'This Sentence Is True (The Previous Sentence Is False)' sets these vocal solos alongside ambient instrumental accompaniment from Steve Coe and others, under the rubrick of 'The Ganges Orchestra'. After recently recovering from chronic rhinitis, which led her to losing her voice, she needed to delegate some of the melodies to instrumentalists, so her mutated vocal lines interweave with mandolins, Indian percussion and guitars. Elsewhere the album explores the problems and riddles of words, sounds and silence. Ridiculous noises are juxtaposed alongside serious sounds: lyrics are often replaced by onomatopoeic syllables.

Chandra's breakthrough came at the age of 16 with Monsoon's surprise international top ten hit 'Ever So Lonely'.

"It was quite a radical thing. Some people refused to believe that I was Asian because I had been on 'Top Of The Pops"! Of course the two were mutually exclusive, then but the single had a tremendous galvanising effect. It also asked so many things of me. Many people spend 30 years chasing a top ten hit, but I had one at 16 and I was asking "what now?" It got me to challenge all the systems I'd experienced."

She challenged not only the role laid down to her by her conservative parents - civil servants from Kerala - but also her stage school. "Stage schools are a breeding ground for the conventional. You learn a variety of skills to a certain standard but you're not asked to excel in individuality in any of them. So I had my family at home asking me to be a conventional Indian woman and a drama school training me to be in the chorus line. And I rebelled against both of them".

Chandra left home and didn't speak to her parents for a decade. It's a resilience reflected in her uncompromising music, and her rigid control over its licensing and release. She negotiates her own contracts and rarely returns to London, choosing to live in Somerset.

"I am definitely very influenced by my environment here, particularly the silence. In a paradoxical sort of way, silence amplifies the significance of a sound. It's like painting with the most minimal tools - the silence that surrounds sound becomes a concentrating force. It reminds you that there is a choice - you make sound or you don't make sound. In urban situations you don't have that choice - you have sound and you either cover it or you don't. I don't think I could make music in London."