Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Oct 2nd 2007 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
So her brief appearance at the recent Yoga Walk Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center -- at once an odd and oddly fitting setting -- had the air of triumph and renewal. The show was part of a short series of 2007 appearances serving as a re-introduction, a small but significant step for the artist who has largely had to watch while a world of music she pioneered has thrived and flowered. Clearly from the reception this day, she has been missed -- though the context offered a bit of a culture shock.
"This interest for me in the yoga world is a surprise to me," she said from the stage, not quite sure what to make of the scene of yoga devotees arrayed on mats fanned out around her, amid booths selling related clothing, equipment and nutrition-related products.
But while maybe her previous show a couple of nights earlier at a cathedral in San Francisco may have been a bit more appropriate for her sounds, there was something natural about this venue. Her opening konnakol, an exercise in vocalizing a rhythm in imitation of a tabla, grabbed the audience's attention -- dazzling in technique and precision but also in the character and color of the sounds. She followed with 'Waiting,' an entrancing piece over a drone track, the melodies neatly spanning Indian modes and English folk songs reminiscent of the husky tones of June Tabor. Next was a piece involving Latin chant, her voice reverberating even after the drone track faded, leaving her unaccompanied, as if this too was taking place in a cathedral. And to finish, she returned to English folk styles with an adaptation of the traditional song 'The Enchantment.'
Of course, Chandra has been defying expectations since she first emerged as a child actress on an early-'80s teen TV show in her native England. Shortly after, she fronted the band Monsoon, mixing Indian modes with Western pop and dance-rock styles -- the group's lone album included the enduring U.K. hit 'Ever So Lonely' and a hypnotic version of the Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows.' It was after leaving Monsoon, though, that she and partner Steve Coe really broke new ground with a series of albums on their own Indipop label, evolving a style that often used electro-acoustic drones to accompany Chandra's increasingly masterful and often wordless vocal excursions, sometimes stretching out across lengthy tracks or suites -- all before she even reached 20. Not surprising, this caught the attention of Peter Gabriel, who signed the singer to his Real World label, where she continued the experiments with ambient and cross-cultural blends, including the kind of rewarding forays into the world of English folk sources she reprised this day.
For a fan it was almost a bonus that she was as good as she was. Just the fact that she was there was a treat. "I have always been a 'shy' performer and didn't give my first concerts until ten years into my career," she said by e-mail, saving her voice for the stage. "Then, at the end of the first season, I developed vocal problems which have persisted for 15 years. I have spent so much time building it back up and can do much of what I used to, although stamina and pain are still an issue."
This was compounded, she explains, by damage that occurred during emergency eye surgery. "In the meantime I developed -- quite naturally in the circumstances, I suppose -- terrible stage fright. I used to hyperventilate -- which is a real problem it you sing! -- and tremble so hard I thought I would fall over."
That part, though, is now in the past, she said. "I have been working on this for eight years now and love being onstage and connecting with audiences in a way I never thought I would."
She's worked very hard to get back to this point, even doing open mic nights at folk clubs in England.
"I finally learned to talk to my audiences as if they are my close friends," she said. "To my surprise, when I do this, being onstage alone is not scary at all and I have the pleasure of sharing what I love with them."
And while some artists in similar positions would be resentful about others having encroached on their territory over time, Chandra is nothing of the sort. "I am so happy that this is now a huge genre in its own right," she said. "For all of the '80s I was the only full-time artist in Asian fusion and that seems unimaginable now! I don't really see my influence. The elements I drew on are so inspiring in themselves that mine couldn't really match up to a heritage that rich. I think I merely reminded musicians that they were there."
It's still a small step, if a significant one, for her to come back toward resuming the place she has held in the past. What's next is uncertain, and the work to get onstage again has taken precedent over any recording plans, though she has been involved in a new venture that showcases her strengths and range.
"This is a collaborative project on Real World which I am involved in called 'The Imagined Village,'" she said -- the project also involving Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Martin Carthy and others. "It is a new twist on English folk, which is sort of the last undiscovered country in the 'world genre.' Shamefully ignored! The album should be out via Rykodisc/Warner Bros. in the U.S. in the spring. We are going to be touring the U.K. in November."
That she's touring anywhere in any setting is news to treasure.