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The BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music The BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music
Susheela Raman

Artist: Susheela Raman

Category: Newcomer (Winner)

The Mercury Music Prize likes to pride itself on its left field nominations but few nominees have caused more surprise than Susheela Raman. Yet to those of us who have heard Raman's debut album Salt Rain, she appears an obvious nominee.

Raman was born in Hendon in 1973, seven years after her parents came to London from southern India. The family then emigrated to Australia when Susheela was four.

'I formed a funky band and we played covers and gigged all over Sydney but by the time I was in my twenties I realised that the music I wanted to make wasn't really suited to the Australian musical climate.'

In 1995, she returned to India to study music under the tutelage of a renowned Hindustani singer, intent on blending the influences of east and west. She then returned to England in 1997. Soon she was singing in the Anglo-Asian dance outfit Joi.

Yet Raman never felt part of the much hyped Asian underground movement.

'I admire Talvin and Nitin but my music is more shaped by growing up in Australia, going to the beach, the vibrations off the ocean... the spatial dimensions are different and that means my music is different.'

Where Joi played a hi-energy ethno house, Raman's own tastes were more introspective and having met guitarist Sam Mills (who had already recorded with several Asian and African artists) she found the perfect sparring partner.

'During my working relationship with Sam I went back to the old Tamil songs and Sam played them on guitar - Indian classical music is all drone so with the chords beneath them it sounded great. It took ages to get around to making the album so by the time we did we had loads of material and some really good musicians to work with and things just flowed.'

Indeed, Raman drew on traditional Tamil music (which she had learned to sing as a child) while blending this with jazz-folk-pop influences. The Kenyan musician Ayub Ogada guests and Raman proves capable of interpreting Tim Buckley and The Jungle Book alongside Tamil devotional songs. Combined, Salt Rain makes for an organic, unforced and beautiful listening experience.

Biography by Garth Cartwright, November 2001


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