Into Another Dimension
Susheela Raman takes her music to the next level with her new project and album
Brit-Tamilian singer-songwriter Susheela Raman is constantly expanding her rich universe of sound. Known for her various collaborations with artists from Africa, Europe and Asia, Raman has been exploring and revealing the dynamics and similarities between various forms of music. While Raman deeply studied her own Tamilian roots and the tradition of devotional songwriting, she was also introduced to the Baul tradition through her partner, guitarist Sam Mills’ work with Paban Das Baul. The energy of Raman’s music and her staunch vocals always exude this deep sincerity and intensity which translate to profound listening experiences.
Performing at last year’s Jaipur Literary Festival, Raman got to interact with Rajasthani folk musicians which led to her most recent engagement with a new form of music. Understanding their music and working with them over a period of time, Raman then took her newfound collaboration to stage at the Rajasthan International Folk Festival held in Jodhpur this October. She also invited and took some of the musicians – like Nathoo Solanki (nagara), Kutle Khan (vocals/percussions) and Male Khan (flutes) ”“ to play in London as part of her new project Outerindia. Kickstarted in the month of September with Paban Das Baul, Outerindia is held at the Rich Mix arts centre in London once every month. Through this platform Raman showcases the rich diversity of Indian music by presenting very interesting collaborations. “It’s really about mixing the tried, the modern, the diasporic and sort of just juxtaposing them because it might not be as interesting for people to just listen to music coming from, say, only Nagaland but more interesting if you have these different influences and you can make them work together,” says Raman of her new initiative.
“We also call the music we play OuterIndia. You have to make your own genre, your own space because it’s kind of hard to fit our music into any one of the existing categories out there,” adds Mills. Raman and Mills play with their band ”“ rounded off by drummer Arif Durveshi and bassist Karthik Raghunandan ”“ in London. “I’d love to bring that band to India as well. With the band back in London, we are all on the same wavelength, and it’s a different experience. I hope that will happen soon,” Raman says excitedly while speaking of them.
Raman and Mills visit India this month with the launch of her fifth studio album Vel on the Sa Re Ga Ma label. Solanki and Khan have also contributed on the new album, so along with Raman’s strong Tamil and Western influences, Rajasthani folk elements revitalise this mix. Raman suggests the album is “full of new directions.” Speaking of her inspiration in the title of the album she says that Vel “was the symbol of Murugan which was also a war cry.” Raman describes the album as being “instrumentally beautiful with some interesting contradictions.” On her last album, 33 1/3, Raman reinterpreted songs by Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Lou Reed, and in that process of deconstructing and reconstructing she evolved as a musician. “To have the opportunity to do such songs and pulling apart those structures, I think that’s what really got us thinking about the new directions which you see on this album,” she says. Raman also suggests that this in some way influenced the way she wrote English songs on the new album, which she says is as English as it is Tamil. Raman, who knows of a few bands like Avial and PINKNOISE from the Indian indie scene, is on the lookout for artists to feature on the Outerindia platform. In the near future, Raman also hopes to start a label under the Outerindia umbrella.