Pat Rocks

Up close with Nitin Sawhney

By Patrick ChngEvents - 27 May 2010 4:27 PM | Updated 16 September 2010

Up close with Nitin Sawhney

A man who wears many hats, Nitin has worked with numerous artists such as Paul McCartney, Sting, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Talvin Singh and Anoushka Shankar amongst others. He has eight solo albums to his name and have scored music for TV, theatre, video games and films like The Namesake and A Throw Of Dice. came face to face with Nitin to talk about his various projects and the very special unplugged concert that he is putting on for the Singapore Arts Festival.


You’ve had quite an amazing musical journey since the early 1990s, how do you feel right now in 2010, having accomplished so much?

I don’t really like to look back. I just look at projects that I’m working on right now or things I’m doing right now. I’m very happy when I look back on albums and the music I’ve written for film. I’m proud of the work I’ve done but I’m always in the present and thinking about the projects I’m working on at the moment. I’m working on the music for The Human Planet series, which is very exciting for me–working with an 80-piece orchestra.

It’s the people who did Blue Planet and Planet Earth and this is their latest series about human beings–different tribes across the world. That’s a lovely project. I’m also working with the Royal Opera House on a project, which is about theoretical physics. I’m working on an album. John Hurt is actually going to be a character in my album and has agreed to narrate the album. I’m working with some fantastic singers… very well known artists as well as people who are up-and-coming. I’m also doing Midnight’s Children next year … lots of lovely projects.


Having worked with quite a number of big names (Paul McCartney, Imogen Heap and Sting, amongst others), is there anyone else you would really like to work with?

It’s been quite weird because I’ve also worked with a lot of artists who’d be famous later, like Ellie Goulding who has suddenly become very famous. She just recorded last year for my next album. It’s people who I find interesting. Thankfully, they do very well, which is great for them. I try to find people when they are at their most creative.


This isn’t your first time in Singapore, what do you remember from your last time out here?

Lots of very loud noise from racing cars! It was really great fun last year. I’m not a massive fan of Grand Prix but it was a really cool experience. And before that, we hit the Womad here, which was great. So yeah, I’ve had really good experiences in Singapore.


How did you become involved with the Singapore Arts Festival?

The ConversAsians representatives saw us performing. I was performing with Akram Khan in London. Akram is a very good friend of mine and we have worked together for a long time. We were doing a performance called Confluence but also I did an acoustic show.

And the ConversAsians representatives asked if I could put that same acoustic show on here, which I think is going to be really good fun. I don’t know how it will work in this context. I don’t know how much people know of my work here but I’m excited to put on a full proper acoustic show here with incredibly talented musicians.


As part of the Singapore Arts Festival, you’re one of the participants of  ConversAsiansand you’ve also been Artist in Residence for several organisations – what do you hope to achieve with these programmes?

Generally with the work I do, I try to express the difficulty I had getting into what I do now and explain the processes you have to go through in order to break into the arts world. I supposed it’s one perspective on that. But also, it’s very much about contextualising what’s going on right now with the arts world… the whole thing about trying to be creative and diverse in our thinking and ways of actually keeping your identity intact as an artist while simultaneously serving lots of different projects and having the ability to collaborate with all kinds of different mediums.

I’m always trying to see if I can get that message out there. It’s not about just having one way of thinking. It’s about thinking in lots of different ways as an artist and being open minded.


You’ve scored for theatre, video games, films and even Cirque du Soleil. What do you like about creating music for the different mediums?

It’s about possibilities. It’s about expansion. It’s about development of how you think. If you’re working in so many different ways, they cross-pollinate and it moves you forward as an artist. I’m always looking for the narrative. If I’m a DJing, I’m looking for the narrative. I’m thinking “how do I get crowd moving? How do I get that group of people excited?” If I’m writing a composition for an orchestra, I think the same thing. It doesn’t matter what the medium is so much but the form. What I’m interested in is the process that goes on underneath… the subtext, the psychological narrative… the emotional structures that make people excited.


How do you keep yourself fresh and not get jaded in the music industry?

Probably by working with lots of different people and also working with lots of young people, and taking a lot of workshops. I do a lot of educational work where I get to meet a lot of young talent and because of the enthusiasm I see from them when I’m teaching them… that inspires me as well.


You’re performing an acoustic concert in Singapore–what can fans look forward to?

I think it’ll be a very exciting concert. We’re bringing over some fantastic singers. I can guarantee that no one will ever have seen this before. That’s a guarantee because the people who we have singing are unique and very special and incredibly gifted. I’ve worked with some of the greatest singers in the world and some of the best musicians, and I can categorically say that this is one of the best bands that anyone will ever come across because it has more possibilities, more talent, more skills and more ability to move between different genres than any other group of musicians I’ve come across.

And that’s because these singers have come from such diverse ways of thinking and experiences in life. They’ve travelled so much. So I’m very excited to put this show on. It’s the second time I’ve put on this particular acoustic show. The first time it’s got a standing ovation for some time so I’m hoping we’ll get the same response for the musicians and singers that we have here. Definitely it’ll excite people without a doubt.

Don’t miss Nitin Sawhney performing his acoustic set at the Esplanade on May 28, and a DJ set at supperclub on May 29.

About Patrick Chng

Forever young at heart, Patrick Chng loves going to gigs and checking out Singapore bands. He has also been playing in bands since the late 1980s, writing about music and being an important mover and shaker in the Singapore indie music scene. When he's not checking out or playing gigs, he's at home playing with his guitars and updating his Facebook.