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Sheila Chandra
Weaving My Ancestors' Voices
The Zen Kiss

Real World
Review by Chris Nickson


Listening to these albums again, it’s hard to believe they’re around 30 years old. At the time they were released, they stood like beacons, unlike anything else out there, whether it was the slippery, abrupt turns of the konnokol mouth percussion that marked the “Speaking In Tongues” tracks on Weaving My Ancestors' Voices, to the reworking of the traditional English folk song “A Sailor’s Life” on The Zen Kiss, where her vocal phrasing connected the piece to India.


She even went back to “Ever So Lonely,” the track that had catapulted her to fame when it was an early UK 80s hit for her band, Monsoon. Here, stripped to voice and drone, it becomes an eternal, spectral ache, more resonant than the original.

Chandra and musical partner Steve Coe had been gradually moving towards all this for several years, in their adventurous self-released Indipop releases, which were almost a prototype for some of this work, but this… this was a huge leap of faith.


In a time when fullness of sound seemed to be a hallmark in music of all genres, the starkness here was quite startling. Stark, but never plain, especially on ABroneCroneDrone, the last of her three releases on Real World. It’s a disc that could easily have been released just this year; the world has caught up with her ideas. It made clear the huge importance of the drone, its centrality in her music, and showcased the beautiful malleability of her voice, truly a gem, and such a loss when burning mouth syndrome ended her career.

Credit, too, to Coe for his work, spending hours and hours mixing each track. He brings out the details and allows the music to float and soar.

When these albums were first released, the clout that the relatively new Real World label carried put Sheila Chandra in front of a global audience, exactly where she belonged. They stood out as daring and different. And if others have followed the trail she blazed with her approach to music, it simply shows how right she was. And plenty are still scrambling to catch up to the quiet beauty that is ABroneCroneDrone. All of these are still necessary music.


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Read Chris Nickson's interview with Sheila Chandra.

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