Nitin Sawhney @ Festival Theatre, Adelaide 17/10/2019

Tonight Adelaide was treated with Nitin Sawhney opening the 2019 OzAsia Festival recreating his twenty-year-old seminal album, Beyond Skin. Adelaide is only the second stop on this tour. The first date was at the Royal Albert Hall in London with dates in Melbourne and the Gold Coast to come.

With four other musicians, two vocalists Nicki Wells and Eva Stone, violinist Anna Phoebe McElligott and tabla player Aref Durvesh, Nitin took to the stage and commenced with a couple of songs not on the Beyond Skin album. First up was Sunset and Moonrise from his triumphant 2001 Prophesy album. Sunset was a hip hop jazz fusion song that showcased Nicki’s wonderful vocals and Aref’s sublime Tabla skills. Moonrise showcased Nitin’s brilliant flamenco guitar skills and Anna’s inspiring and uplifting violin playing. Next up was Herecica Latina a Paco Pena cover/tribute and this was followed by Breathing Light with started with a recording of Nelson Mandela saying “we are free to be free”. Nitin went to Nelson’s home in Johannesburg to interview him and used a sample of his voice for this song.

Next up was the Beyond Skin album played from start to finish. This album is still relevant today with its themes of identity, race, nationality and religion. It is a deeply personal album for Nitin who is a child of Indians who emigrated to the UK. Nitin sampled his parent’s voices for the album and when he talked about the song Immigrant which contain his late father discussing the move from India to the UK he became very emotional. Nitin believes that there should be no borders and that the world belongs to all of us. This notion was reflected in tonight’s performance that crossed many borders and styles. It was full of haunting melodies, atmospheric arrangements, excellent singing and tight playing.

One of the many highlights was Homelands which is a fusion of ambient sounds, qawwali vocals and flamenco. When the track Nadia was played the original recorded vocals from Swati Natekar transitioned to the live vocals of Nicki Wells who is a brilliant global singer and all night long she was able to leap from Fado, Indian classical and Arabic music with ease.

The set came to an end with the title track Beyond Skin which was another brilliant showcase of Nitin’s flamenco guitar skills and Nicki’s middle eastern wailing. After much rapturous applause and a standing ovation, Nitin and company returned for the funky and slow groove of Deadman and then the night was wrapped up brilliantly with just Nitin and Aref on the tabla with the title track of the Prophesy album.

This was a breathtaking, inspiring start to the OzAsia Festival and was a superb focus on Asian music and breaking down boundaries.

OzAsia Review By Richard De Pizzol

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