CMU Playlists

Playlist: Nitin Sawhney

By | Published on Thursday 13 October 2011

Nitin Sawhney

It’s no surprise that fusion composer and DJ Nitin Sawhney has an eclectic sound, given how diverse his early passions and projects were. Despite a passion for classical music during his teenage years in South London, he subsequently played in punk bands, before later touring with acid-jazz outfit The James Taylor Quartet. Having dropped out from law studies in Liverpool, he trained as an accountant and, while a student, became friends with Sanjeev Bhaskar. Together they formed comedy duo The Secret Asians, and act that eventually led to Bhaskar’s ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ venture.

But of course it’s for his work as a solo composer and musician that Sawhney is best known. He released his debut album ‘Spirit Dance’ in 1994, and has since blurred many a genre boundary during a prolific seventeen years releasing albums, compilations and remix LPs, and working on numerous scores for films, theatre and dance productions, video games and TV series, the most recent of which was the sprawling soundtrack to the BBC’s anthropology epic, ‘Human Planet’.

Nitin worked with ‘Human Planet’ narrator John Hurt and Anthony Gormley on his ninth and latest studio LP, ‘Last Days Of Meaning’. Categorising the record as “a parable about entrenchment and dogmatism… a modern day ‘Christmas Carol'”, Nitin seeks to excavate topical themes of blame and prejudice through his music, tracing a bigoted Dickensian miser (voiced by Hurt) as he reflects on his past and society at large.

Nitin is set to follow a sold-out date at the Royal Albert Hall with two headlining nights at London’s Union Chapel on 2 and 3 Nov. Meanwhile, he has compiled a Powers Of Ten Playlist marrying his part-nostalgic, part-innovative musical tastes.

He says: “My earliest memories are of listening to my Dad’s incredibly diverse record collection. He had masses of vinyl from Cuba, Spain, India, Brazil and Pakistan, supplemented with jazz, classical, early reggae and a whole host of other musical genres. This, along with my Mum’s strict diet of Indian classical music and my brothers’ Radio Caroline-inspired mix of prog rock and new wave, shaped my perspective on music all the way to my earliest jam sessions and gigs”.

He continues: “The playlist of tracks that I have selected reflects the spirit of those early memories and a lot of the sounds I continue to love. For me, music always has the dual purpose of reflection and inspiration, but invariably gets my head into the right space”.

Click here to listen to Nitin’s playlist in Spotify, and then read on to find out more about his choices.

01 Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Mustt Mustt (Massive Attack Remix)
Seminal Qawwali singer coupled with one of my favourite bands, Massive Attack. This track was perhaps my biggest influence in the 90s, demonstrating, as it does, the possibilities of mixing great dub-heavy beats and tripped out FX with the astonishing Sufi vocals of the master.

02 Bon Iver – Blindsided
Bon Iver’s album, ‘For Emma’, was one of the most quietly influential albums of the last few years. This song more than any other has winter in its bones. A beautiful, moving and subtly contemporary soundtrack to late night chill out.

03 Thom Yorke – Black Swan
I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent trying to reproduce the awesome snap of the snare sound in this song. The production on this track is phenomenal. Thom Yorke at his best with cool beats and edgy instrumentation.

04 Jeff Nhore – Afara Koa Tsy Atao
This track more than any other is pure energy – the guitar carries more of an infectious groove than any drum beat I can think of. Amazing vocals and great for any time of day to inject a shot of excitement into life.

05 Fela Kuti – Expensive Shit
Love the back story to this track. Fela apparently paid a fellow prisoner to rid him of an incriminating marijuana stool, thus avoiding a mandatory ten year prison sentence. I remember playing this at a late night outdoor DJ gig in Australia earlier this year so I could trick people into thinking there was a live band in the field. We ended up with 10,000 people jumping up and down for the remaining two hours.

06 Hannah Peel – Unwound
Beautifully produced track from Hannah’s debut album, ‘The Broken Wave’. Another superb vocal from an innovative folk artist who had fantastic critical acclaim and is currently working hard on her next record.

07 Bela Flek, Zahir Hussain, Edgar Meyer – The Melody Of Rhythm: Movement 1
Blinding musicianship coupled with quirky and, at times, cinematic orchestration make this a very unusual and surprising listen. One for the musos.

08 Ojos de Brujo – Memorias Perdias
Gorgeous melancholic vocals and stunning production from Spain’s leading flamenco/hip hop band. Always looking to retrace the connections between Flamenco and Indian folk forms, Ojos de Brujo create yet another epic journey of tabla, guitar and organic beats.

09 Radiohead – Weird Fishes
My favourite from ‘In Rainbows’, this track has a great movement to it by combining triplet rhythms on the guitar with driving beats and evocative lyrics. Radiohead on form as always.

10 4Hero – Golden Age of Life
This album did a lot to revolutionise the possibilities of drum n bass with its intelligent orchestration, musicianship and acoustic production ideas.