Susheela Raman, a British – Indian musician whose work spreads across genres and cultures, is known for her electric stage presence and energetic, imaginative performances. Her fusion of the traditional Indian music from her childhood and Western contemporary sound has seen her gain serious acclaim from critics and even a nomination for arguably music’s highest accolade - the Mercury Music Prize - back in 2001. This February she’ll be performing tracks from her latest album Ghost Gamelan at Camden’s Roundhouse, inspired by a holiday to Indonesia where she fell in love with the music and the culture. We caught up with her to find out more about what we can expect from the performance and the difficulties of categorising herself as an artist.
London Calling: What made you want to explore the music of the Gamelan with this new album and the performance?
Susheela Raman: My husband and collaborator Sam and I went to Indonesia in 2015 and had a fascination with Gamelan music, the music of Indonesia which is full of gongs, xylophones and these stunningly beautiful instruments. We had always been fans, so when we went there we had a feeling in the back of our minds that we should search for Gamelan music. We started to meet all of these interesting people out there, and in central Java we met a Gamelan composer. So we sat down and played with him, and we had this idea that we wanted to record this Beatles song, Tomorrow Never Knows, and we said to him ‘would you like to record this song?’ and he was very up for it. We went to the studio with many Gamelan instruments and he created this beautiful arrangement, so we took that back to London and added more musicians and our own instruments and released it as an EP earlier this year. We then went out there again because we were so drawn into this musical world and created an album out there.
LC: What can we expect from the live show?
SR: It’s a special performance! We were so inspired by what was going on that we asked some of the Gamelan musicians if they could come to London – you’re going to see four guys from Surakata and an amazing team from London as well, including two leading British Asian musicians Aref Durvesh and Pirashanna Theverajah as well as two extraordinary Western classical players including Danny Keane on the cello and Jerry Meehan on the bass. We’ll be playing tracks mostly from this new album alongside the Indonesian musicians.
LC: You bring together lots of different influences and music from different cultures – is that difficult sometimes or does it just keep things more interesting?
SR: It’s always difficult, and there’s a pressure in knowing whether it will work or not, when you’re doing something for the first time it does make things difficult, but I thrive on those kinds of challenges.
LC: You’re often classed as a world music artist– what do you think of that term?
SR: I think it’s a little racist, I don’t like it! I get thrown into that box a lot. Nobody was saying, back in the day, that Bob Marley was world music. Then suddenly it became the norm to describe anything not British as world music, but really I was born here, I feel British and that experience has shaped my way of thinking.
LC: Are you excited to perform tracks from the forthcoming album Ghost Gamelan or are you nervous about how your fans will react?
SR: It’s very nerve-wracking, you can’t avoid that! It’s very different to the last lot of stuff. But I don’t do it to please people, it’s an artistic statement, you do what you do and hopefully people will like it!
Susheela Raman performs at the Roundhouse on 1 February, tickets are from £15, find out more here.