Nitin Sawhney – musician, composer and producer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I had always been playing since I was very young, but I walked away from my full-time job to join my old school friend’s band as a guitarist.  They were called the James Taylor Quartet and are still going very strong.  I decided that during that tour in my 20’s I would never go back to any kind of normal job and that, come what may, I would find a path to make a living as a musician.  That was all back in the late 1980’s and I haven’t looked back since.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I am not always only inspired by other musicians, although some of my musical heroes have included Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Paco De Lucia, Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Massive Attack and many, many more.  My greatest influences come from life experience and people whose lives have been led in an exemplary way.  Those people include everyone from Nelson Mandela to Chadwick Boseman or friends of mine, like Anoushka Shankar or Imogen Heap.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

My greatest challenges have been scoring BBC’s ‘Human Planet’ series, scoring ‘Mowgli’ for Warner Bros (now on Netflix) and recreating the album ‘Beyond Skin’ that I made 21 years ago on stage at the Royal Albert Hall and for a whole tour last year.  Also, I found it a hugely challenging conducting the London Symphony Orchestra performing my own score to Hitchcock’s 1927 silent movie, ’The Lodger’.  Especially as I had pneumonia at the time.

As a composer, how would you describe your musical/compositional language?

I create a new vocabulary for each project I work on.  I don’t believe in stamping my personality all over what is required for a film’s score to compliment the narrative.  However, with my own albums I tend to follow my intuition which leads me into a lot of sounds that I love.  Those sounds include, flamenco, Indian classical music, dark electronica, great voices, orchestral flavours and hypnotic beats.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’m very proud of my last album, ‘Dystopian Dream’.  Also, the work on my current album ‘Immigrants’, one of my early albums ‘Beyond Skin’, my soundtracks for ‘Mowgli’, ‘Breathe’, ‘The Namesake’ and BBC’s’ Human Planet’.  I am also very proud of the work I have done for dance, theatre and three silent films I scored for the BFI and for the London Symphony Orchestra.

How do you work?

Differently for each project, but I always try to use the same teams of people as I trust them.

Tell us more about your new single.  What was the inspiration and compositional process for this?

I initially was thinking a lot about Beethoven, as this is his 250th anniversary, and I wanted to create a very traditional classical piece of music, based on the piano.  I drew particular influences from Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Chopin.  I then decided it would be interesting to have two other variations of the composition so I brought in brilliant violinist Anna Phoebe for ‘Movement Variation I’ and amazing cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson for ‘Movement Variation II’.  They were both wonderful and added huge amounts to the original composition, but I am also very proud of the simple piano piece ‘Movement’ before I collaborated with anyone else.  We will be putting all three versions out with accompanying videos filmed at Wigmore Hall.  I am really excited about that as I do not hear new classical music composed in this traditional style very often.

You’ve been described as a musical polymath. How do you balance the different, sometimes eclectic strands of your musical/creative life?

I think different strands of creativity tend to cross-fertilise.  I am always amazed at how you can find commonalities between almost every creative medium there is.  I always start from considering the narrative of the journey that music will take me on before I begin.

What keeps you motivated to continue to compose and produce music?

This is very simple to answer.  I love what I do.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is purely subjective.  I think we are automatically successful in every single moment we are relaxed and happy.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Find your own voice, whether through music or your personal identity.  They both tend to have a symbiotic relationship with each other anyway.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Somewhere peaceful in a place free of political ignorance and bigotry.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A room with a piano and a guitar. 

What is your most treasured possession?

Probably a guitar that I have had since I was a teenager.  It has been played by everyone from Paul McCartney to Sting to Jeff Beck to Sinead O’Connor.  It has a great feel and still sounds amazing on stage compared to other electro acoustic guitars I have tried since.

What is your present state of mind?


Nitin Sawhney’s new single ‘Movement’ is released on Friday 25 September 2020. His album ‘Immigrants’ is scheduled for release in Spring 2021

More information

Nitin  Sawhney  is  one  of  the  most  distinctive  and  versatile  musical  voices  around  today,  achieving  an  international  reputation  across  every  possible  creative  medium.

In  2017  he  received  the  Ivor  Novello  Lifetime  Achievement  award,  and  is  firmly  established  as  a  world-class  producer,  songwriter,  DJ,  multi-instrumentalist,  orchestral  composer  and  cultural  pioneer. Most recently, Nitin has been appointed Chair of Trustees for PRS Foundation, the UK’s leading charitable funder of new music and talent development.

Sawhney  has  become  a  modern-day ‘Renaissance  man  in  the  worlds  of  music,  film,  videogames,  dance  and  theatre.  His  endless  creative  curiosity  makes  him  a  formidable  polymath  across  the  whole  artistic  range  of  media  associated  with  the  music  industry.

With  over  20  studio  albums  to  his  name,  including  solo  albums,  film  soundtracks  and  compilations,  he  has  received  a  substantial  wealth  of  major  national  and  international  awards  for  the  work.

In 2018 Sawhney completed the entire composition of Warner Bros / Netflix epic film ‘Mowgli’ which had its world premiere at the end of 2018.

Image Credit: Nina Manandhar

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