sexta-feira, 19 de julho de 2013

Sheila Chandra:The stories behind Peter Gabriel's Real World Records Nº 1

Before the internet made global music as easily accessible as mainstream pop, there was Peter Gabriel’s one-man effort to bring world music to, well, the world. In 1989, Gabriel used his big Genesis bucks to fund Real World Records, equal parts passion project and record label that would drastically alter the sonic landscape. Real World prided itself on producing music from a panoply of cultural and ancestral traditions, often with modern twists.

The label that, arguably, gave rise to the popularity of world music is celebrating its stellar history with a series of reissues called Real World Gold. CBC Music seized the opportunity to interview some of the label’s biggest names, and even we’ve been surprised about what we've found, which has sparked this new six-part series.

We’re proud to kick things off with this deeply personal interview with Sheila Chandra, one of Real World’s biggest stars, thanks to her phenomenal voice. The reissuing of Chandra’s two albums, Moonsung: A Real World Retrospectiveand Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices, is the closest you’ll come to hearing anything “new” from the 47-year-old London-based artist for the foreseeable future. That's because a rare neurological condition rendered her mute years ago.
In a candid email interview, Chandra wrote about being a singer without a voice, her experiences with Peter Gabriel and Real World, and the role music plays in her life now.

How did Real World change your life?

I’m not sure I’d say that Real World changed my life. But they did provide the most excellent home for my solo voice and drone trilogy and help me to reach a wider audience around the world, especially in North America ... I looked at Real World’s roster at the time, and noticed that it was heavily biased towards male artists, and African music. So I knew what I was offering would help them to balance their catalogue.

Why was Real World the right home for you through the '90s?

I didn’t want to sign to a major, having had a bad experience with Phonogram in the early '80s. Phonogram told my band Monsoon — an Asian fusion band — to "lose" the Indian influence when it was our entire raison d’etre! Perhaps I overreacted, but it made me very determined to walk my own path artistically, and very suspicious of record companies in general ... Real World have a reputation for understanding artists, perhaps because they’re headed by one. And although inevitably we haven’t always seen eye to eye over everything, they have been remarkable for letting me see through the most unorthodox of artistic ideas. I hope they feel that I’ve added to the depth and quality of their catalogue as a result.

What’s been the lasting impact of Peter Gabriel’s interest in world music?

When an artist who has the respect of the entire industry around the world puts his name and support behind a genre, the world takes notice. Peter Gabriel is renowned for his own inventive musical explorations, painstaking recording process, classic albums and innovative live shows. You feel that anything he’s interested in as an art form, or that he endorses, is going to be well worth checking out. Music critics are very aware of that fact.... And without Real World we wouldn’t have had many of those amazing collaboration projects such as the Massive Attack remixes of Nusrat’s work.
That seems unthinkable now, but without Real World, many of those artists simply wouldn’t have received the right exposure in the right places, or had those opportunities, and we’d all have missed out. The fact that it seems unthinkable gives you a clue as to the lasting impact of his interest.

When did you first know something was wrong with your voice?

I’ve had problems with my throat since the early '90s when one of my vocal chords was scarred — probably during an emergency operation for a detached retina. However, I’d done a lot of work on my throat and I could still sing well, although stamina was a problem and I had to be very careful. In 2009 I was seeing a vocal physiotherapist and having some very intensive work done on the muscles in my neck to see if I could improve things any further.
At first I thought the burning sensation in my mouth was simply a result of the physio work, and only a short-term thing, but it got worse and worse. Now I experience long-lasting neurological pain whenever I speak. Singing is out of the question and I haven’t even dared to warm up for about two years. It feels like my mouth is on fire and it goes on for hours or days, and can get bad enough to wake me at night.
Remaining silent — which means no talking or singing or laughing or crying — is the only way to stay pain free, and I’m effectively mute. For the first couple of years I didn’t even get a correct diagnosis, but I now know that what I have is burnt mouth syndrome (BMS). It often strikes menopausal women, and there is no known cause or cure. The frustrating thing is that my voice sounds completely normal when I do speak. It just hurts like hell!

At what point did you finally realize you probably couldn’t or shouldn’t speak again?

It took me a few weeks to work out that it was speaking that was causing the burning pain. Prior to that I only had an aching throat if I overdid it vocally, if I’d spoken intensively for more than an hour a day. But still, the idea of remaining silent seemed too surreal to contemplate. It took a good 18 months for me to adjust. In part that meant developing coping mechanisms and acclimatizing my friends to the situation, all of which took time.
I think for a long time, I was in denial. I just talked through the pain, and ended up in agony. I still do that, if I think the conversation is important enough. And it’s such a surreal and unusual illness that, to begin with, if I told people I had a problem speaking, quite often it just didn’t compute and they’d carry on asking me questions as before. It took a good while for me to actually come up with a phrase to describe my problem which they couldn’t ignore. The word "mute" does that very effectively. And to just refuse to talk.

I was also afraid that people wouldn’t believe me because there is nothing visibly wrong and if you drop a hammer on my foot I shout just like everyone else. And I didn’t want to admit defeat, to admit that I just can’t talk at all, because I hate being pitied.

I can’t imagine how devastating that would be for a singer. I’ve talked to a few vocalists who’ve battled problems in the past and you’re living their worst nightmare. How did you cope initially?

For me, the most difficult thing at the moment is not being able to speak without pain. People’s sense of who you are as a person, including your class, education and intentions are intimately bound up with the way your voice sounds. That’s because they know instinctively that hormones like oxytocin and adrenalin affect voice quality instantly and give a true picture of what you feel, even when you’re trying to hide it. When they can’t hear your voice to assess you, they feel slightly lost. Without my speaking voice, it feels as though the real me is hidden, and there is only a very crude caricature left.
If I’m out with a friend and they get chatting to someone, say in the street, without mentioning my problem, that someone usually assumes I’m a stereotypically shy and traditional Asian woman, which I find particularly irritating! Others think I’m antisocial or even rude because I’ll avoid chatting and give terse answers when I must speak because every syllable costs me. And vocalists avoid me. I’m just too vivid a reminder that the voice is a fragile thing, even if you look after it.
On the upside, I’ve learned to write very fast.

How has your relationship with music changed since your diagnosis?

I completely avoid music. My brain is still musical and it’s just too tempting to want to sing along or learn a new song. It’s also emotionally difficult to have to stop myself relating to music in the physical ways that I once did. If my voice did come back tomorrow, I think I’d find that my songwriting muscles have wasted away along with my vocal muscles to some degree.
You had experienced other vocal problems much earlier in your career as well. Were you making provisions and decisions then about what your future would look like if you couldn’t sing?
Well of course I thought about it, but singing is a vocation — a madness. Serious singers are generally devoted to singing and it defines who they are. It’s also the part of them which gets them most attention and praise and status as well. To contemplate being entirely without singing is difficult for them.
And they’re supported in their madness by other people. If what they do is valued, no one wants them to give up. In fact, their own needs as a person can become submerged and lost besides what other people want them to be. So for instance, before the BMS struck, I could do concerts only if I remained silent for weeks at a time in the concert season, so that I could use the vocal time I did have to rehearse and perform. No one ever suggested that doing that was bad for me psychologically as a person, although it undoubtedly was.

Serious singers alter their lifestyles to take care of their voices. They avoid loud parties and clubs. They go to bed early. They avoid drinking and smoking. They exercise and they protect their throats with scarves, and take taxis rather than wait for buses in the wind and rain, even if they can ill afford them. I’d done all that for as long as I could remember. I prioritized my singer self. So it was natural to hold out for as long as I could, trying to find specialist help to restore my voice completely, and to keep working, however much pain and difficulty that entailed. I never thought I’d have to give up completely.
You might say that I wasted time when I should have been making other plans, but I’m glad that I did absolutely everything in my power to keep going for as long as possible. Singing was my gift and the thing I had to give to the world. I doubt I have another such gift, and I’m glad I gave it for as long as I could.

You’re now a published author with Banish Clutter Forever. How has your relationship with language changed since your diagnosis?

Fortunately for me, I’ve always written in a voice which is close to the way I speak. I think that comes across in my writing and it feels as though the written word is now my true voice. I miss being able to banter with people the most. And I value language and its subtlety all the more now that it’s rationed.
Are you working on other books as well?
I’m just starting work on a proposal for a followup to Banish Clutter Forever, so watch this space.
Source: by Andrea Warner -  CBC music

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