Indian singer-composer Sheila
Chandra's first five solo recordings, which not
only established her as an independent, label-defying artist but also
anticipated current Asian-electronic musical hybrids, are being
reissued by the Milwaukee-based Narada World label.
"People now put me in a specialist category marked 'Sheila
Chandra' because I've been difficult," she said.
The English-born singer, 35, began work on the series in the early
'80s, when nobody, least of all she, quite understood what was
Previously she had worked as a teenage lead singer with the pop
whose song "Ever So Lonely" became a UK hit in 1982.
Frustrated by how the group was being treated by Phonogram
Records, she signed with the independent Indipop label and
embarked on a five-album voyage of self-discovery that began with
the release of Out on My Own in 1984.
"Indipop was a safe haven for me," said Chandra, who had vowed
to avoid chasing hits and has stuck to her indie guns ever since.
"I let myself off that hook," she said. "[Hitmaking] wasn't my objective,
and that's why I haven't released any singles in my solo career. My
musical explorations and artistic development were more important
than hit singles."
So far, Narada has released Chandra's 1984 Quiet, with its
evocative, wordless vocals, and Roots and Wings, an Asian-
Celtic amalgam recorded five years after the first four albums were
"I'm delighted at the re-release of these albums," she said, "because
they represent the seeds of my vision."
On the 10 tracks of Quiet from "Quiet 1" (
HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Chandra,_Sheila/Quiet_1.ram" >RealAudio excerpt HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Chandra,_Sheila/Quiet_10.ra m">RealAudio excerpt
>RealAudio excerpt) to "Quiet 10" (
m">RealAudio excerpt) Chandra layered her girlish
voice over classical minimalism à la
COLOR="#003163">Philip Glass, pentatonic scales
and drones, New Age keyboard silk and strutting basslines.
The decision to avoid lyrics was a natural one: "First of all, I wanted
to explore my voice as an instrument. Language inhibits you
because vowel sounds affect vocal tone and harmonics. It ties you
to the lyric, so it's a less-pure emotional vehicle."
By comparison, the serene complexity of Roots and Wings,
exemplified by "One" (
HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Chandra,_Sheila/One.ram">RealAudio excerpt), is constructed on a bed of ambient
sounds and Indian percussion that presages her later albums for
Realworld label. Chandra's other three Indipop albums, Out on
My Own, The Struggle and Nada Brahma, will be reissued
in upcoming months.
Chandra admitted that being a young Indian woman bent on
personal independence led to friction within her home community. "It
was difficult in the sense that I was at the older edge of the second
generation," she recalled. "There weren't young, hip Asians in the
media. I was a kind of an unofficial cultural ambassador, and it was a
role I was very happy to resign when I took my first sabbatical, in
The singer also tells of her family's displeasure at the direction her
life and music were taking. "You can't be all things to all people," she
observed. "There are going to be times when you upset people, just
because you went one way rather than another." Chandra said that
while her family was delighted with her brief pop career, "they were
unhappy when I decided to make these very lateral albums. They
withdrew their support, and I didn't speak to them for 10 years."
She was reconciled with her family in 1995, but, until then, she
admitted, "I was quite happy to be exploring on my own, without
being nagged for a decade. They thought I would fail but were
forced to acknowledge that their worries were groundless."
Chandra is recovering from long-overdue sinus surgery, for chronic
rhinitis, while planning her next move. "My voice is just coming back,"
she said. "I have some stamina-issues now, but the rest is pretty
much there. I couldn't write with my voice, so I started to write lyrics.
What I do next probably will involve lyrics and real verses and