Sheila Chandra's Declarations Of Indi-pendence Reissued

Indian singer/composer's pathfinding early albums, Quiet and Roots and Wings, back in stores.

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

being unleashed.

Previously she had worked as a teenage lead singer with the pop

group Monsoon,

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

released.

"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) to "Quiet 10" (

HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Chandra,_Sheila/Quiet_10.ra

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

Peter Gabriel's

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

1985."

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

choruses."