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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  December 22, 2021 3:30pm-4:00pm GMT

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to disclose force him or asking to disclose that. needs to know that the condition of entry would be those two requirements. we'll have more sport for you later on the bbc news channel. this is bbc news, the headlines: in the last few minutes uk government scientific advisers are recommending children aged 5—11, who are clinically vulnerable, should be offered a low dose of covid vaccine. the welsh government introduces new measures from boxing day, groups of no more than six people will be allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants. germany and portugal announce more post—christmas curbs. france warns daily cases could pass 100,000 very soon. 13 million people are put into covid lockdown — in one chinese city — just weeks ahead of the winter olympics. now on bbc news, it's hardtalk
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with stephen sackur. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. many of us have an inclination to categorise artists. it's an easy, maybe a lazy way, of signalling where we think they fit in the creative universe. but my guest today defies labels. nitin sawhney�*s creative output is dizzying. he's a musician brought up in an indian family in britain who fuses different musical traditions. and on top of that, he writes film scores, he djs, promotes various cultural initiatives — oh, and he was a successful comedian, too. so what are the common threads in this prolific creativity?
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nitin sawhney, welcome to hardtalk. thank you. lovely to be here. it's great to have you. let me begin by getting into your life during this covid pandemic that we've all lived through. you are known as a musician who takes an international approach to music—making. of course, during lockdown across the world, that's not been possible, so what has covid done to your creativity? it's been interesting because, like a lot of people, we found — well, ifound new ways of exploring that. so, i mean, iwas working with musicians internationally — still, i mean, for example, i managed to do a concert online with ashwin srinivasan who was in india — we did that for the cheltenham jazz festival last year, and i'd tried to collaborate with people even through zoom and different ways of doing that.
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so you can sync up a performance through zoom and do it live? not quite, because i've gone into using, you know, final cut pro, which is a — so i'd cut things together sometimes in a way that they looked live, and then we would broadcast or stream those. but, yeah, it was — having said that, yes, of course, you end up more isolated. it's been strange because, obviously, musicians really bounce off each other in a room, whether it's a live gig or studio, so it was quite weird, you know, and it felt like a real silence descended. and you talk about that word �*isolation�* — and of course, people haven't been able to travel, and, again, you are used to doing quite a lot of travel — so you've been in england much more perhaps than you're used to. yes, yeah. ijust wonder if you have been led to reflect on your feelings about england. in a way now, i want you now
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to delve into your own past — you were brought up in rochester, a small town in the south—east of england, in kent. your parents came from india. you were the first child born in england in yourfamily. how do you now feel? how do you sort of look at rochester and kent and do you feel a warm glow or do you feel that you're a very long way from it? i feel a bit of both. i mean, i have mixed feelings about the time growing — it was a very picturesque place to grow up. i mean, we were by the river, there was a peaceful castle and cathedral. but at the time — and we're talking about the late �*60s and the early �*705 — growing up as a kid and then moving into puberty, it was kind of — it was very isolating in a lot of ways, because i didn't really identify with a lot of people around me. there weren't many brown kids in school. no, not at all. i mean, if, you know, barely any. so i didn't really have anyone that i could identify with in terms of anyone who looked like me, particularly, apart from my brothers and my parents who are —
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my brothers are eight and five years older than me, so we didn't really hang out together or anything like that. and i had friends, but it was... inevitably, i kind of had this split personality, almost, where i'd be living in a home where we'd talk about india a great deal, or my parents would be speaking punjabi quite a lot... so you were in kent but you felt very indian? sometimes, but then, when i would go to school, i'd have all the same reference points as everyone else around me so i'd be listening as a teenager to led zeppelin, the doors, you know, all kinds of different stuff, and also jazz — but at home, i'd often listen to flamenco, indian classical music, cuban music — different music from around the world. and the other key aspect of your childhood was racism. yeah, a lot. you were bullied, you were abused — sometimes by adults as well as by other children. yes, i was. i mean, i kind of... during the �*705 — i mean,
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this was the heyday of the far—right group the national front, who were classified as neo—nazis at the time — there was a lot of abrasive and aggressive behaviourfrom kids around me because of the fact that we'd have the national front leafleting out on the school gates. i'd be followed home as a teenager by a guy or guys in a white van who'd shout stuff at me through a loud hailer on the top of the van — racist abuse. i had a certain music teacher who had an issue with the fact — i mean, iwas playing — i did all the grades very young — an indian classical piece in a music room, and i remember he walked in and said, "where's your sheet music?" and i said, "you don't really need one for this. it's all traditional, it's indian classical music." and he said, "well, if you haven't got sheet music, it's not music, get out." and then he banned me for six years from the school music rooms. and it wasn'tjust him —
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i mean, it was an atmosphere, really, and that's why i'm not naming him in particular. but did you share these really traumatic experiences with your parents? no, ididn�*t. and i think part of the reason was shame, as well, because i felt — my parents were very optimistic, and that's why on one of my albums, i include my mum and dad speaking, particularly on beyond skin, which was in the late �*90s, where they talk very optimistically about coming to england, and their optimism around, you know, the prospect of being immigrants to london. they desperately wanted to fit in? yeah, they did. see, what interests me about — and now, we're getting into your musical choices from an early age — what interests me is that you were very gifted, obviously, as a young child musician — you could play all sorts of instruments and do all sorts of things — but you gravitated towards the sitar, for example, which — you know, if you'd really wanted
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to fit in and just try to use music to assimilate as best you could, you'd have gone for the electric guitar maybe rather than the sitar. well, i already played electric guitar by that age. i mean, that was more when i was a teenager, a young teenager, i got into sitar and tabla. but i had also been to india when i was eight years old and so, i'd fallen in love with india, and i think that was something that — and indian classical music, particularly — so i was already very into indian classical music as well as jazz and rock and all kinds of forms of classical music as well. do you think music for you as a young person was a, sort of, pathway to expression when so many messages around you as a youngster were that you were other, you are different, you didn't belong, and that you should darn well shut up? and here was music, which gave you a way to be powerful, rather than powerless? i think that's exactly right. ifound it — ifound music was a means of communication
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and expression and catharsis that i didn't really feel i had in the way i spoke or in my normal communication. i suppressed a lot of feelings, i think. and music is the language of emotion, and so it felt more appropriate to find ways of kind of delving into feelings that i had through music. and what you did was you found this unique way of melding different musical traditions — whether they be from your parents�* homeland of india, or from your own knowledge of western, us and british pop and rock and all that, and then jazz and soul, and then latin american beats, as well — you were just chucking it all in there! yeah, it sounds like the kitchen sink, but for me, it felt like a default situation of not really having boundaries. you know, i was always confronted by boundaries and borders and people were always underlining the fact that i was different.
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so with music, ifelt like i had the right to explore because music doesn't really lend itself to the idea of having those same limitations that you have in normal communication, because of the world being so politicised. which i didn't realise as well. i was thinking as you were talking there, i was thinking, music doesn't know racism. well, music does know racism in the way it's practised and the way people respond to particular forms of music, to musicians — they bring their cultural attitudes with them. so in 19905 london, when your career was beginning to take off, were you finding it a place with open doors or some closed doors? well, i think this was the thing, because music is a pure universal language and so what happened was, yes, people closed the doors to that because they feel threatened or confused by it, or they don't understand it. so yeah, i phoned up record companies a few times, i'd phone them up and just say what my name was, and they'd just say, "well, we don't do bhangra" and i'd say, "well, i don't do bhangra either".
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because you're indian, "0h, he must be the bhangra guy". there was an assumption. but that kind of changed, and a lot of us made an effort to change that by getting into the club scene in london, by trying to make music that felt like it fitted in with more of a cool scene that was more mainstream. and so there were quite a few bands that were doing that — myself included, badmarsh & shri, talman singh, cornershop, fundamental, asian dub foundation. it would be greatjust to give a flavour of what you are doing, and perhaps from one of your most successful projects — beyond skin was the album. we're just going to have a quick look at a little flavour of one track that you then played again 20 years after the release of beyond skin. this was homelands, where you performed — and it's an indication of how successful you've become — at the royal albert hall. let's have a look. music plays
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sings in calo you there, nitin, with some fabulous collaborators on homelands, which was perhaps one of your most successful songs — i think it's been downloaded millions and millions of times on spotify and on youtube. does that indicate that you have very successfully gotten over all of these issues of categorisation, of labels, that that's no longer relevant? no, quite the opposite — i think i'm constantly confronted by that in different ways through everyday life. but musically, i try to — one way i describe it is, i try to think of music as a palette, you know, and that you can find different emotional colours and textures from different places. and so, it's kind of finding the right palette to create the emotional picture or the emotional sonic landscape
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that you want to create. and so i kind of think that way, rather than trying to meld things together or fuse things together, which for me feels like too contrived a way to think. and so, i mean, you saw there, there's different musicians and singers who were singing melodies that i created and some which actually borrowed from pakistani and indian traditions, going into brazilian traditions of flamenco, and so on, but all those things are music forms that influence me a great deal. so the music is unique and it's highly complex in some ways, because it's taking so much from so many different places. but also, it's complex in terms of the lyricism. i mean, it's difficult to tell from a short clip like that, but the beyond skin album is quite a deep, sort of, rumination on the impact of nuclear weapons —
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particularly, i think, you'd written it after india had done a big nuclear test and you were reflecting on what that meant for india and for the world. you know, these aren't necessarily the subjects of your average pop song. no, it's interesting, actually, because the nuclear, kind of, context was one part of everything, and the album, as you rightly pointed out, begins with vajpayee, the indian prime minister at the time, talking about how he'd proudly tested three nuclear bombs in the pokhran range, in india. but it was interesting because he was the leader at that time of the bjp, which was the hindu fundamentalist party, which i found an interesting way to begin, juxtaposing against the book end of 0ppenheimer, who was in charge of the manhattan project, who was of german descent, an american scientist who was actually quoting the hindu scripture in condemnation of his own creation.
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so i thought, "well, what an incredible way to show the hypocrisies of nationality and religion, to show there's 0ppenheimer, who created it, who hated his own creation, the nuclear bomb, then there's this guy — and he condemns it in the name of hinduism." and that encapsulated the essence of what the album was, which was looking at issues of identity where we say that nationality, religion, race and so on are synonymous with who we are, as opposed to thinking about how we create our own identity. well, and identity is a theme that runs throughout your work. so let's bring it up—to—date on the latest album, immigrants — it's very much a reflection of a world in which nationalism in many different countries is on the rise, where there is, it seems, to be a rising fear of immigration, of the other. do you write it with a sense of deep foreboding? well, i mean, iwas very influenced by people, writers like edward said with 0rientalism, you know, and the way in which we other people
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who come from different cultures. and i think all that happens a great deal in different countries. and so, for me, it's not so much a sense of foreboding, it was actually about really finding a way to collaborate with people who have strong feelings about their immigrant heritage, or about the immigrant past, themselves, and to really give a platform to that voice, as opposed to the voice that i quite often hear, which demonises immigrants quite regularly. but it's interesting, this idea of giving a voice — because actually, i think one of the voices, and we've discussed it already, that features your dad's. yes, that's right. but it seems to me your dad, as you've already said, was positive about the notion of coming to the uk and making it work for him and his family. to me, you were fuelled by something else which he didn't express, which is anger. you portray racism, you know,
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there are voices in the latest album which you've used from archives of white racists. yes, that's right. expressing deep, deep loathing for people coming into their country. that's absolutely right. but then, i use those as interludes to contextualise some of the music. so the music itself, i try and avoid anything like anger, i don't believe there's angry music in what i do. but are you an angry person? i have been. like everyone else, i have moments of extreme frustration and anger, and i do sometimes express that on social media quite overtly. but i think in the music that i create, i try to find a calmer voice and a voice that is, like i said, cathartic in a way that won't alienate people. let's take this opportunity to have one more clip of a performance — this is from the latest album, immigrants, and it's very much exploring the migrant story and experience. let's take a look. # how do i cry for
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the missing voices # stolen from this earth? # and how to forgive all the painful choices. # that make me prove my worth... i think we must name—check ayanna witter—johnson there, who is singing and playing the cello. in a way, that's a lament — a lament for all these people who had to leave their homes, leave their land. we talked anger — is there sadness in you, as well, as you look at your own family's experience?
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yes, definitely. i feel sad that perhaps i didn't ask my father, before he passed away, more about his history. i've tried to make that up by asking my mum a lot about her past and her childhood, and so on. but, yeah, i guess it's also a sadness that i think we've returned largely to a time which, you know, of intolerance, and it's been frustrating to watch over the last few years. so i do feel quite strongly, and that's the context this album was made in. can music change people, change their hearts and minds, do you think?
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i think music often... it's very hard for me to think otherwise, i think all music that i've ever heard has changed me in some way. and sometimes it's a gradual process, orsometimes it's an epiphany. but you know, a lot of my heroes — you know, if you think about the black civil rights movement in america, with james brown, or if you think about south africa in relation to people like abdullah ibrahim, or a lot of great south african musicians who had strong opinions during the time of apartheid — i think there is something to be said, you know, bob dylan more overtly, but there's something to be said about the idea that musicians can challenge the times that we live in, and can do so very effectively. as you're speaking, i'm wondering about some of the young people you grew up with in rochester, in kent — do you think your music has reached ears that aren't necessarily used to hearing, and perhaps has made some people who might have had prejudices and preconceived ideas about the other change? well, people have actually expressed that to me, in terms of — people sometimes who've come with friends, for example, to concerts we've done, or who have listened to albums, and they've actually written to me on social media to say that they feel very differently as a result of hearing the albums. although i don't try to put loads of messages in my albums,
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they are cathartic first, they are about expression. and so, i feel very happy — but when people say that it's had an effect on them in a way that makes them appreciate other cultures or other ways of thinking more. but that's not really my aim or intention in the first instance. let me bring you back to your dad. one thing you said, it was a moving thing, was that after he died in 2013, you regretted that you hadn't accepted an honour from the queen, from the british government, i think it was an 0be back in 2007 — and you did it at the time because you said it had the word "empire" — in 0be, 0rder of the british empire — you had no interest in accepting such an honour, then you reflected on it when your dad died and you felt you had made a mistake. why? well, part of it was that he asked me if i would take the 0be for his birthday. which i found really moving, but i had already pretty much turned it down at the time. and i don't think i would've changed my mind then. but what happened was that i got offered a cbe on his birthday — a letter arrived literally on his birthday, and i kind of thought, "ok,
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that might be a sign." it still had the word "empire" in it. it does indeed, but it was interesting because the thing is, i had different thoughts about it back then. so he'd said, because i said it's got the word "empire" in it at the time to him, but he said, "no, it's also a measure of how far we've come as immigrants." and i thought, "well, that's quite a powerful thing to say." and i remember when it came, it was interesting for me because i thought, "well, yeah, you're absolutely right," it did have the word empire in it, and i struggled with it for a bit. but then i kind of thought, "well, it's my dad's birthday, maybe that means something" — he passed away in 2013, so that, i thought, "ok, i'm going to take it." and then, on my mum and dads wedding anniversary, that's when they gave it to me — which again was quite mad — and they knew obviously nothing of these things, so, it was interesting. as you put it, "how far i've come." — and you've come a long way, we've looked at the royal albert hall, i know you've collaborated over
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the years with everybody from paul mccartney to, to annie lennox, ravi shankar, and so many people who are at the top of their different musical traditions. and yet, for a long time, you still seemed to feel the music industry wasn't fully open to you. you talked about i think in years gone by about how glastonbury wouldn't put you on the main stage. has that gone now? because you have done glastonbury main stage since. afterwards they put me on the main stage! has that feeling of yours, that some doors are still closed, really gone? i think i'm incredibly privileged, and i'm very lucky in what's happened to me. and my one dream, really, is to pass a lot of that privilege and luck on to other people, or to be in a position to do that.
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so i take on certain, you know, i'm lucky to be the chairman of the prs foundation, which is a leading charity for musicians in this country, and artists and promoters. and so, you know, i'm a patron of a few other organisations... you are very much devoted to making music more accessible, giving more musical opportunities to the disadvantaged kids in urban areas, perhaps some from minority communities such as your own mum and dad and their own immigrant experience. absolutely, yeah. do you think, when you look at, you know, the nitin sawhneys of tomorrow, kids growing up with, you know, disadvantaged economic situations, from minority backgrounds — is it easier to imagine a career in music today? i really hope so. i mean, it's very difficult because we don't know the political landscape of the future. but i really do hope so. i think it's been really frustrating, to be perfectly honest, over the last few years, in the way in which anti—immigrant rhetoric has become quite
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mainstream, or even more mainstream than it was. and i think it's very important to counteract that by really promoting and celebrating the journey of immigrants and people of immigrant heritage in this country, and particularly musicians and artists, in that respect. nitin sawhney, we have to stop there. but it's been a pleasure having you on hardtalk. same to you. thank you very much, indeed. thank you. thanks forjoining me. quite a christmassy flavour first thing, cold and frosty, but the story is set to change. high pressure slips off into the near continent and allows this area of low pressure to influence the story. it's bringing milder, wetter weather, and here's the first signs,
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with the rain pushing into western fringes in the next few hours, drifting steadily north and east. any morning sunshine gradually eroded as we start to see some cloud across central and southern england. the rain gradually moving north—east, with a cold day for many of us, around 2—6c. behind the weather front, the mild air starting to nudge in, so we will see nine degrees in northern ireland and perhaps parts of cornwall. that wet weather continuing to push steadily north and east, fragmenting a bit and becoming showery. if we get some breaks in the cloud, we could see icy stretches in north—east scotland and england, and a chilly start here. but out to the west, double figures to start thursday morning. all change here. still that southerly wind continuing to push milder air in from the south—west, behind these weather fronts. they will bring some fairly erratic outbreaks of rain at times, light and patchy in england and wales, heavier bursts
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potentially in northern ireland, scotland and north—east england. still that cold air in place but behind it, northern ireland, england and wales, a noticeable difference to the weather. for christmas eve, it looks like we will start with a fair amount of cloud and more wet weather pushing into the far south—west. the best sunshine for christmas eve in eastern scotland and north—east england, still chilly, but double figures down into the south—west. here comes the complication for christmas day. as the milder air bumps into the colder air, where they meet, the potential for some sleet and snow, so some of us mightjust about see a white christmas. most likely to be across northern england, the north pennines, down into the midlands, albeit fairly light and patchy, as this weather front drifts steadily north and east. the best of the drier, sunny weather on christmas day likely to be scotland and north—east england. take care.
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we'll have more sport for you later on the bbc news channel.
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this is bbc news broadcasting to viewers in the uk and around the world. i'm matthew amroliwala. our top stories... governments around the world weigh up new covid restrictions, as 0micron cases continue to rise. boosterjabs are also being ramped up in many countries — including israel which is planning a fourth dose, but the who has this warning. blagger to programmes are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than ending it, by diverting supplies to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and rotate. —— mutate. in the uk, government scientific
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advisers recommend that children aged five to 11 who are clinically vulnerable should be offered a low

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