Sheila Chandra is one of modern Indian music's most striking figures... As the singer for Great Britain's early-'80s Indian/New Wave crossover band, Monsoon, she was one of the most striking early figures of the contemporary world music scene. Naturally, her fame also invited intensive critiques -- how authentic was she? -- did she really know her classical music? Blah-blah-blah. ...Gradually shifting away from pop, and into more meditative, arty stylings, Chandra has had some brilliant triumphs, at times as a modernizing innovator and as a bridge back to tradition for her pop-oriented fans. Here's a quick look at her work...
Monsoon "Third Eye" (Mobile Suit, 1983)
An early highwater mark for Asian/Rock crossovers. 16-year old Sheila Chandra had the voice, and for the most part, the band had the chops. Steve Coe's groovy British outfit stuck to a rich, swirly, sensuously harmonic sound, and their blend of East and West was far more skillful than they may be given credit for. Monsoon's ability to balance the propulsiveness of Western rock and the hypnotic qualities of Indian classical music was quite striking, and had more to do with drone than cliched sitar riffs. Although a few of the songs aren't that amazing, at least nothing sounds forced or false; the album didn't crack the UK Top 20 for nothing...
Sheila Chandra "Out On My Own" (Caroline/Indipop, 1984)
Still very pop-oriented, this marks an extension of Chandra and Coe's collaborations...
Sheila Chandra "Quiet" (RealWorld/Indiepop, 1984)
A nice reissue of her second post-Monsoon solo album. This could easily be lumped into the New Age/easy listening category, but that might be selling it short. Sure, all the cliche adjectives apply -- dreamy, ethereal, spiritual, contemplative, and, yes, "quiet" -- but here they aren't just random words trotted out to fill up space. This album really IS dreamy, ethereal and spiritual -- it's a dramatic departure from her rock-oriented early work, and a good indicator of how far into the traditional realm she would head... Also, it's just the thing to put on if you just wanna space out for a while...
Sheila Chandra "The Struggle" (Caroline/Indipop, 1985)
Sheila Chandra "Nada Brahma" (Narada World, 1985/2000)
Originally issued as a limited-edition album, this delves deep into spacy, improvisational/ethereal territory. This is one of Chandra's most deliberately "New Age-y albums, but it's also quite nice. She certainly has a way of setting a mood. The album's main track, the 27 minute-long "Nada Brahma," is ambitious but has a few rough transitions. The shorter pieces, particularly the percussion-based "Raqs", have greater cohesion. Nice record, though.
Sheila Chandra "Roots And Wings" (Caroline/Real World, 1989)
Sheila Chandra "Weaving My Ancestor's Voices" (Caroline/Real World, 1992)
The first of her trio of "drone" recordings, which explore a more hypnotic tonal quality... This disc, along with The Zen Kiss and ABoneCroneDrone (below) are among Chandra's most accomplished and best-known solo works.
Sheila Chandra "The Zen Kiss" (Caroline/Real World, 1994)
Sheila Chandra "ABoneCroneDrone" (Caroline/Real World, 1996)
As leader of the early-'80s Indian/New Wave crossover band, Monsoon, Great Britain's Sheila Chandra was one of the most striking early figures of the contemporary world music scene. Naturally, her fame also invited intensive critiques -- how authentic was she? -- did she really know her classical music? Shifting away from pop, and into more meditative, arty stylings, Chandra has laid a few eggs, and also had some brilliant triumphs. This is one of her best efforts -- a jarringly intense, dense, hypnotic, powerful and entirely unique album. Highly recommended.
Sheila Chandra "This Sentence Is True (The Previous Sentence Is False)" (Shakti, 2001)
Purposefully veering away from the "drone" sound of her most recent records, Chandra partially recaptures some of her rock-pop roots, although now with a decidedly ambient-electronic bent. This album takes a little while to gather steam... in part that may be because the music is originally taken from a pair of EPs and may not altogther match up... but it's still pretty cool stuff. Some of it's still pretty darn drone-y, but there's also a bit of white noise, and even a spoy of Monsoon-style indipop... unfortunately the rock stuff is pretty lackluster, but overall this is a nice record... Worth checking out.
The Imagined Village "The Imagined Village" (Real World, 2008)
An interesting multi-culti collaboration featuring Martin Carthy, his daughter Eliza, punk-folk troubadour Billy Bragg, Sheila Chandra and others... A mix between craggy traditional English song and modern, trip-hoppy pop. Some of it is quite nice!
Sheila Chandra "Silk: 1983-1990" (Shanachie, 1991)
Sheila Chandra "Moonsung: A Real World Retrospective" (Real World, 1999)
This breathtaking retrospective disc collects material from Chandra's three "drone" albums, Weaving My Ancestor's Voices The Zen Kiss, and ABoneCroneDrone all recorded between 1992-96. For a good sense of the breadth of her classical/crossover work, this can't be beat, although of the three original albums, ABoneCroneDrone probably most calls for consideration on its own terms. Still, this is a nice summary of this work. Highly recommended!
Asian Music Index
World Music Index