Real World Records are delighted to announce the re-issue of a British Asian World Music pioneer Sheila Chandra’s landmark trilogy of solo voice albums on on 16th June. The recordings, which will be issued on vinyl for the first time, as well as on CD, are available to pre-order now. These austerely beautiful records forged a new global vocal vision out of a re-imagining of myriad vocal traditions – and sound just as radical and passionate now, as they did when they were first released, 30 years ago. Unable to make music any longer, Chandra regards them as the pinnacle of her creative career.
The first re-issue is Chandra’s 1992 debut for Real World Records; Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices which begins the series that cements her as one of the most accomplished musicians and writers of her generation. On this exquisite album, which celebrates the ultimate instrument – the voice – she explores the territories of her spiritual ancestors by flawlessly intertwining vocal traditions from around the world.
The biggest selling album on Real World at that time, it includes a solo voice reinterpretation of Chandra’s first single ‘Ever So Lonely’ – a startlingly fresh, lushly layered, ear worm of a pop song which became a huge global hit in 1982 and saw her performing on the BBC’s flagship chart show ‘Top of the Pops’. In the early eighties, no-one had ever seen a British Asian singer dressed in a sari with a teardrop tilak singing a catchy raga-based pop song on television. Though the track – which prefigured the World Music genre by five years – was an acoustic island in a sea of synth, for the first time a UK Asian diaspora sound was fashionable, and Chandra’s boundary-breaking career began.
Through the 90s, Chandra ensured that Steve Coe, her co-writer and producer, paid equal attention to detail to the trilogy in the studio.
She says “Solo voice work can be a challenging listen. Steve took 16 hours to mix each vocal track, since the voice was so central. People had never listened to such lavishly crafted naked vocals, or bothered to treat voice like that before, not even in the most sophisticated studios in the world.”
This can be heard to great effect on the second re-issue The Zen Kiss which was recorded in 1994. It seamlessly interweaves strands of traditional English folk, Iberian and Celtic song, Gregorian chant, and yearning laments. These time-honoured vocal techniques are then wrapped in the most cutting-edge studio techniques – especially on the machine-gun-fire, vocal percussion ‘Speaking in Tongues’ showstoppers.
The third re-issue is ABoneCroneDrone recorded in 1996, Chandra’s most radically experimental solo voice work and the closing chapter of her trilogy of albums for Real World. The six tracks are a window on Chandra’s innermost creative world – an unexpectedly original examination of the usually taken-for-granted but essential element of Indian tradition, the drone itself.
After her time with Real World, Chandra returned to the Indipop label to produce a deliberately less sweet-sounding and challenging collaboration with the Ganges Orchestra on This Sentence Is True in 2001 and worked with the multicultural English folk supergroup Imagined Village in 2007. Yet, the Real World albums have a poignant significance, because they document a vocal genius at the height of her powers making her final solo voice recordings. Diagnosed with Burning Mouth Syndrome in 2009 – a condition that causes excruciating and long-lasting pain when she sings or talks – Chandra was forced to retire from performance and recording.
She says, “I can’t listen back to these records nowadays in case I am tempted to sing along, as it would be agony. I am delighted that Real World Records are reissuing the albums of which I’m most proud. They are a true reflection of me personally. They don’t sound like any other Asian musician who was making music at the time, and I very much doubt that they sound like any other musician now.”
Listening to these radiant records today, they are proof of Chandra’s pure joy in musical exploration, and they stand as an example of what the music of all cultures should be: the individual giving voice to herself, as well as the universality of emotions that make us all human, no matter what our native musical language. And as Billboard acknowledged in 2001, this extraordinary artist’s ground-breaking experimental work paved the way for many others.
The trilogy is available in a great value bundle directly from Real World and singly from HMV and Amazon.