A World In London 239 - Sheila Chandra Fri, 2017-11-03 10:44
Iconic creative visionary Sheila Chandra on this A World in London! Interviews with Sheila Chandra are a rarity, so we were absolutely blessed to savour her eloquence and wisdom at AWIL.
With a career that spans 35 years as a pop star, global music pioneer, songwriter and innovator, we met Sheila in her current incarnation of author. Her new book ‘Organising for Creative People’ has filled a huge gap in the market − outlining how to set up the essential infrastructure any creative professional needs to thrive in their career − and recently topped the Foyles non-fiction chart. She is the perfect mentor, qualified as someone who knows the challenges and rewards of life in the creative lane first hand, in an industry that has changed beyond recognition across four decades. Sheila began her long career in the arts as a child actress in the popular, but then controversial, after-school BBC TV series Grange Hill. But her ambition to become a singer took her into heady pop chart history worldwide, fronting the Indian fusion band Monsoon, and that glorious ground-breaking Top Ten hit ‘Ever So Lonely’ in 1982. She immediately became a role-model and flag-bearer for every South Asian kid that saw no reflection of themselves in the mainstream.
As a solo artist, Sheila went on to produce six ground-breaking vocal orientated albums on the tiny Indipop label and a best-selling trio of minimalist solo voice and drone albums for Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records, exploring the gateways between vocal techniques between vocal cultures from all over the world, and fusing them effortlessly in a single melodic phrase. She thrilled ‘live’ audiences as a lone figure seated quietly onstage while she explored the boundaries of what was possible with the voice.
As one of the few, and certainly the earliest of Asian artists to achieve mainstream success, Sheila became a brown stamp in a white world. A teenager when she made her song-writing debut (on her second solo album Quiet, comprised of 10 lyric-less tracks which explored the voice as an instrument) this elegantly sari-clad woman was an impossible-to-ignore, unconventional and un-stereotypical non-white presence in music. Defying expectations of what it meant to be young, female and Asian, without ever setting out to shock, she says that the most common phrase she heard at this stage of her career was an astonished ‘You can’t do that!’. The sheer artistry of her work forced audiences to move beyond their old connotations of music from the subcontinent as merely ‘exotic’, the soundtrack of the sixties, or the musical equivalent of ‘Fair Trade’ craft goods. Her music was unmistakably fine art. And behind this was a steely determination. Her pioneering work only became possible because she eschewed the mainstream record company route, managed herself, and cashed in her fame in exchange for musical freedom.
It was when Real World were putting out the ‘Moonsung’ retrospective of her work that I first interviewed Sheila, in 1999, and I remember feeling that I was in the presence of the most powerful woman I had ever met. Someone who knew exactly what she was doing, and why. She was filled with a sense of purpose, dedication, and complete clarity about her musical mission. Since then, she’s proved that adaptation and fluidity is eminently possible, and that skills can be transposed from one field to another, consistently finding a new voice. In Sheila’s case that voice is pure, crystal clear, and permanently relevant, be it on vinyl or paper –listen to it on this un-missable AWIL!