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Nitin Sawhney’s Immigrants Tour

Dome, Brighton March 2022

Reviewed by Andy Bay


In 1999, Paul McCartney was asked in a Rolling Stone interview to name his favourite new artist. Without missing a beat he replied: ‘Nitin Sawhney’. At the time, the track ‘Sunset’, one of Sawhney’s signature songs, was a huge pop radio crossover hit. Slick electronic beats, suave female vocal harmonies, lush string arrangements and a hypnotic tabla percussion backbeat made the track irresistible . ‘Rivers rise/ Oceans rise/ People rise with the sun.’ These fleeting lyrics perfectly captured the cultural moment; we longed for Balearic allegories and Mediterranean escapism, symbolised by the Ibiza global pop phenomenon.

Nitin Sawhney, born in Rochester, Kent in 1964, studied classical music, Spanish flamenco guitar and Cuban percussion as a teenager, before starting a law degree at the University of Liverpool. He released his first album, Spirit Dance in 1993, after a successful stint as a BBC TV writer on the show Goodness, Gracious Me which he co-created with his childhood friend, Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Sawhney has released twelve albums since, and his latest output is a beautiful record entitled Immigrants (2020). The album reflects Sawhney’s enduring quest to negate cultural and musical marginalisation. His music still seeks to build a platform to realise a greater appreciation for the diversity of human cultures and experiences.

For the release of the album, Sawhney embarked on a world tour in February 2020 but it was short-lived because of the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic. Sawhney has been back on the road since the beginning of 2022. I caught his show recently at the Brighton Dome. It was a stellar performance. Accompanied by a small ensemble – two female vocalists, a violinist, a flautist and a percussionist – Sawhney delivered a flawless, emotional and meticulous performance; the audience was enraptured. The use of electronica loops and textures effortlessly re-created the flesh and bones of the albums from which the setlist was built.

The live performers infused the show with emotion, imagination and inspiration. The songs blended fluidly, in a mix of South Asian vocal inflections and  gorgeous melodies, flamenco guitars, classical pianos and drum and bass beats. Stand-out tracks included: ‘Homelands’ with its haunting blend of vocal melodies; ‘You Are’, a poem which Sawhney wrote and set to music during the early days of the pandemic; ‘Grieving Light’, a paean in memory of Nelson Mandela whom Sawhney  met in 1997; and ‘Movement Variation’, a dazzling classical music piece for piano and violin, performed with brio by Sawhney and his violinist, Ms Eos Counsell.

The ensemble was joined on a couple of tracks by the opening act, Jamaican songwriter Natty. His performance on ‘Days of Fire’, a striking account of the 2005 terrorist attack in London, was one of the highlights of the evening, and perfectly encapsulated the essence of the show.

We live in a world where many of the barriers that separate and divide us, politically, geographically and culturally, still stand strong. But Nitin Sawhney’s music remains a vital force to remind us that there is much more that can be done to make the world a better place. He does it with incredible artistic taste, candour and generosity and if he plays in a venue near you, don’t miss it. It’s one of the best shows you will see this year.