Tamil Londoner Susheela Raman has established her place as one of the most creative artists to emerge from the South Asian diaspora. Blessed with a mesmeric voice and and arresting presence, Susheela has enraptured countless listeners with her own songs and with her interpretations of songs from her Indian roots.
She makes the lines on the map dissolve; a South Indian sensibility radiates through her happily hybrid Euro-Afro-Asian musical landscape, just as an Indian voice is infused with a Londoner's feeling for rock, blues, soul.
Susheela's ability to sing her way between musical worlds and thereby to create her own, has few parallels. She is moving with the tide of the times: India is now a centre of gravity within the Anglophone world, and is increasingly in the global spotlight. Finding sophisticated and adventurous pathways between Indian and global culture is the real challenge; one which she boldly and instinctively meets.
With a justified reputation as an incandescent live performer, Susheela has also made four classic albums, 'Salt Rain" (2001), 'Love Trap' (2003) 'Music for Crocodiles'(2005) and '33 1/3' (2007), each charting a personal relationship with musical history and her own role as a conduit where musical oceans meet. Each Susheela album is a big vision that retains its freshness and uniqueness for years to come.
Her new offering 'VEL', which means 'spear' in Tamil, was released in early 2011. Susheela:
"The new album is half English, Half Tamil. 'VEL' as a record documents my own journey, as a European with South Indian ancestry, into the heartland of Tamil music. This is music which is less about refinement than about the intensity of feeling. It's a world where you have to make the shared feeling in the music real and manifest."
This suits Susheela who has always made music a vehicle of emotion with the same intensity of purpose that she offers herself and her music and to her audience. Who else can deliver a Tamil devotional poem from the thirteenth century and a Captain Beefheart song from 1978 and capture the heart with both? The key is that she makes them her own and then shares them, fashioning both into spears that penetrate the soul.
Lead single, "'Raise Up' is an English song that is inspired by the experience of singing this Tamil devotional music. "Raise up your Hands" means to embrace life, to reach out for something beyond yourself, because of the life force that is in you. We recorded the song last summer in New York. What happened was we were there for a big outdoor concert and were onstage with two amazing Rajasthani musicians, Nathoo Solanki, on drums and Kutle Khan who sings on the track. This was a new song for us and when we performed, it was so powerful that we booked a studio the next day to record it and capture that energy. It's very live, it rocks very hard and is so immediate."
It's a storming track and you can hear the energy and urgency that she inspires in her musical collaborators.
'Raise Up' is a hors d'oeuvre for an amazing record and a bold new step in Susheela Raman's musical journey.