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AAA Music | 30 September 2020

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| On 09, Jul 2011



‘It would be easier to jot down what this man can’t do than what he can’ Guardian
‘Sawhney [takes] his music in yet another bold and unexpected direction’ The Times
‘Majestic stuff from an international treasure’ Evening Standard

A Mercury, Ivor, Mobo and Olivier nominated songwriter and composer, Nitin Sawhney will release his ninth studio album, ‘Last Days Of Meaning’, on 19 September. It is an eclectic and ambitious record, featuring the legendary John Hurt, which Sawhney showcased with an cclaimed sold-out headline show at London’s Royal Albert Hall in May. He will return to headline the RAH in July, spearheading the ‘Human Planet’ at the BBC Proms (July 23), for which he has just been nominated for a Bafta, before headlining London’s Union Chapel on 2 & 3 November.

It was during sessions for ‘Human Planet’ – the hugely successful, award-winning BBC series, entirely scored by Nitin – that Sawhney struck up a friendship with John Hurt; the narrator of the flagship programme itself. Conceived by Sawhney as a script before it became an album, and written and recorded in just five months, ‘Last Days Of Meaning’ traces the character of Donald Meaning (played by Hurt): an embittered old Dickensian man, fearful or immigrants, terrorists and the outside world. He sits in a room raging against childhood memories, society, himself and a small tape recorder sent to him by his ex-wife (the cassette-recorder contains the songs of the album).

‘Last Days Of Meaning’ is the latest in a line of subtly political works from Nitin Sawhney, whose last album, 2008’s ‘London Undersound’, featured guests such as Paul McCartney, and artwork by Antony Gormley. It is written, says Sawhney, as a ‘modern day Christmas Carol, almost. For me it’s ultimately a parable about entrenchment and dogmatism.’ It’s a particularly timely concern, given the financial climate (‘every time that there’s an economic downturn, politicians seem to blame immigrants. It’s an obvious scapegoat’). Having been on the receiving end of prejudice from his formative years – ‘The National Front was very strong around where I grew up’ – this record is Sawhney’s first work to consciously imagine life from the opposing mindset. ‘It’s a journey towards self-acceptance,’ he says, ‘and sits alongside ‘The Human Planet’ nicely as well, since both essentially celebrate human diversity.’

Sawhney was born in Dulwich in 1964, a year after his parents had migrated from the Punjab, and grew up in Rochester (where he was the only south Asian at his school). It was an intrinsically musical household, from which Nitin would later fuse various influences: Bach, Debussy, Jazz, Flamenco and classical Indian ragas were all important early passions, although in his teens he played in punk, heavy rock and funk bands. Dropping out of Law at Liverpool University, Sawhney qualified as an accountant before forming the stand-up duo The Secret Asians with fellow student Sanjeev Bhaskar. Their success led to a stint on three BBC radio series of ‘Goodness Gracious Me’, but Nitin quit days before filming the full TV show, intent on throwing himself wholly into music.

Now on his ninth studio album, and celebrating 20 years as a recording artist, Nitin’s subsequent output has been astonishing. He is, for instance, the only artist ever to play both the BBC Proms and the BBC Electric Proms, gracing London’s Royal Albert Hall and Camden’s Roundhouse respectively. Few can also claim to have earned the likes of two Ivor nominations (one current), a Mobo, a Mercury and a BBC Radio 3 Award in tandem. Having collaborated with and written for the likes of Sting, Brian Eno, Taio Cruz, Ellie Goulding and Nelson Mandela, his credits across the worlds of theatre and dance are equally extensive (two Sadler’s Wells projects are currently in the pipeline). Perhaps most surprisingly of all, considering his time spent on the sofas of Newsnight Review or Hard Talk, Nitin is also a highly-regarded DJ; spinning everything from Afro-beat and Dubstep to Asian breakbeat and drum ‘n’ bass at Fabric, Big Chill, Womad and Womadelaide.

There is still one thing, however, that Sawhney will not try his hand at. In 2007, he turned down an OBE due to ethical reasons. ‘In France,’ he explains, ‘they have something called ‘Knight Of Arts and Letters’, which I think is a far better idea. But the idea of the OBE comes from a colonial past, and I just didn’t want Empire after my name.’

Saturday, July 23 London Royal Albert Hall (Human Planet, BBC Proms)

Wednesday, November 2 London Union Chapel
Thursday, November 3 London Union Chapel