For centuries, more often than not, artists have done more justice addressing burning political issues than politicians with their public speeches on podiums ever could. Renowned British-Indian musician Nitin Sawhney’s latest album Identity, powerfully embodies that. We live in a world where identities are often looked up with a prejudiced lens and have been the source of innumerable conflicts and divisions. In such a world, Sawhney has subverted those myopic views of identities and instead, used his titular album as a platform to celebrate the complexities of identity, challenge the negative narratives that surround it and embrace diversity.
It is of paramount importance to understand the political context surrounding Identity. One of the driving forces behind the album is Sawhney's frustration with the derogatory discourses surrounding identity in British social media, mainstream media, and politics. He criticizes politicians who promote destruction and hate, emphasizing the need for responsible leadership and the rejection of racism. At the album’s core is a beckoning call urging society to think more deeply about the impact of their words and actions, encouraging empathy and understanding.
The politics that Identity embodies is reflected in Sawhney’s musical arrangement. The album is a sonic collage that brings together a diverse range of voices, each embodying and contributing their unique perspectives on identity. From the soulful vocals of Joss Stone and the introspective lyrics of Guy Garvey to the cutting-edge rap of Hak Baker and the angelic melodies of the non-binary singer I Am Roze, the album’s repertoire embraces inclusivity. At the same time, it showcases how identity does not exist in a monolith and is distinctly diverse. Sawhney does that by not adhering to any particular genre but rather through fusion music, led by an assemblage of some of the most talented musicians, some of whom are also friends of Sawhney’s. Each track on Identity showcases Sawhney's ability to amplify the voices of his collaborators while maintaining his artistic vision. The album serves as a reminder that music has the universal power to transcend boundaries and connect people from different backgrounds.
Often political art and music are accused of being a generalized critique rather than nuanced addressing realpolitik. Identity definitely does not fall under this category as its political messages hit the nail on the head. To elucidate that, I’ll take the example of one of the most powerful tracks from the album, Illegal, which features the voices of Asian women asylum seekers and concludes with Gary Lineker saying "No one is illegal". Lineker is the renowned host of the flagship Premier League highlights show 'Match Of The Day'. After Britain's BBC suspended the presenter for criticizing state immigration policy, Sawhney approached Lineker for this unique collaboration. After a major public backlash, Lineker has been reinstated as the host. Another of my favorite tracks from the album, This Is Our Home, featuring composer and singer Ayanna Witter-Johnson, celebrates the 'Windrush generation' of post-war migrants to Britain from the Caribbean.
With a career spanning over two decades, Sawhney has established himself as an award-winning musician, producer, and composer, collaborating with renowned artists such as Paul McCartney and Sting. He is known for his countless film scores and orchestral projects. However, even amidst commercial success, Sawhney has always managed to employ his art to challenge the status quo, amplify the voices of marginalized communities, and call for a more inclusive and compassionate world. Following widely acclaimed albums that include Beyond Skin (1999), London Underground (2008), and Immigrants (2022), Sawhney has continued to stay true to his artistry and his 13th album, Identity, richly embodies that.