In this post, there are notes so that you can understand the BBC radio 4 Desert Island Discs interview with Nitin Sawhney. He is a very well known British musician, producer and composer.   Aggie and I are currently creating a podcast and it will be launched on 11th October!

You can listen to the interview here:

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Musician, produced, composer, CBE for contribution to music 

Accomplished, versatile, 

0:53 Global Palatteof sound

0:56 Dizzying array of collaborators

1:12 Or scoring a hollywood film (in list of things you may find him doing)

1:23 All this from a boy who was once banned from his schools music practice rooms

1:34 get frustrated when I see artists pray at the shrine of themselves

1:57 Music is about the heart, it’s about catharsis, about expressing what you feel, it’s a kind of therapy

More time playing music than speaking!

2:26 (Music should be a place of freedom) The default position of music is that you have no barriers, playground of exploration, new sounds.. 

2:41 Not just traversing geographical divides, also experimentation 

2:50 (LL speaking) We are in store for some thrillingly diverse music choices

2:56 (LL) How was it narrowing down your music to just 8 

FIRST TRACK Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

3:30 It’s so evocative, beat is incredible, club flavour

4:00 His voice just transcends every barrier (speaking of the artist in this track) 

The range of his music

4:47 Your compositional range is surely unparalleled for its cultural diversity 

For album prophecy he used bollywood orchestra, street children in Brazil, native american musicians, aboriginal Australians  (example for the range) 

5:05 Why is it important to work with such a wide range? (V important word for this interview I think) 

5:08 With Prophecy I wanted to get out of the parochial mindset in a way 

Interviewing Nelson Mandela

5:45 (LL) Who wouldn’t have wanted to meet NM

5:50 It was weird because I’d just finished his autobiography 

6:26 I had an idea of him as an egalitarian 

This was confirmed when his PA said the President was on the phone, he asked how many more questions NS had and he said 2 or 3 so NM said, can he call back in 20 minutes. Confirmed that he truly was as NS had never truly believed it before

6:44 I nearly burst into tears (when this happened) 

6:50 I am quite cynical so this was strange but I was really moved by this 

Second track

7:12 Not just his technical virtuosity on the guitar (speaking about the artist of this track) 

Spirit and exploration 

7:26 He brought real finesse to the flamenco guitar

8:39 (LL) You’re actually shaking your head and rolling your eyes in disbelief at the technical skill involved

8:50 Most of the time you’ve got your jaw on the ground (when you see him perform this live) 


Moved to England before he was born, Hindus from India 

9:03 (LL) They married out of caste, which was quite unusual
(Mother in highest caste, father from warrior caste)

9:11 My mum and dad have always been quite open minded 

9:22 Their marriage wasn’t arranged, married out love and defied social pressures 


9:38 She’s very measured

9:43 Knows a lot of sanskrit

9:50 Written a lot of lyrics on my albums (incredible poet) 

9:55 It’s not a power that’s loud and brash (he described her as power behind the throne, but meant a quiet power)

9:58 She was the first one to spot your musical ability 


Chemical engineer professionally 

Would drive him to piano lessons every week 

11:12 He was really into jazz (to be into something)

Third track 

Film composer hero

11:47 For the spaghetti westerns he wanted to use an orchestra but not the budget 

11:59 Used avant garde musicians 

12:22 It’s hard for me to put it into words, but it’s very powerful and inspirational 

First visit to India

13:16 It felt mythological

Lots of relatives, eldest of 9 brothers and sisters

13:35 I was kind of this mascot 

On a horse at some point with my uncle with this brass band playing when the saints go marching in around us. 

13:54 I was being this precocious little prat, I was crying because the band were out of tune and nobody could understand 


Mathematical school mid 70s 

14:18 (LL) Fairly bleak experience for you at school 

14:36 The National Front leafleting outside our school every day 

14:51 Banned from the practice room for playing Indian traditional music for 6 years 

15:38 Bit of loathing for that person (himself for being weak and pathetic for being abused)

15:58 Trying to get past this self hatred is a bit of a journey 

16:02 That feeling of shame actually drove a lot of creativity at the time

16:14 (LL) Cynical, stems back to those experiences 

Fourth track

16:48 When I was a teenager she was on rotation 



17:49 As an Asian kid there wasn’t really a precedent for me to follow (no role models) 

Didn’t finish the degree 

18:08 (LL) How did that go down with your parents?

18:19 Brother said you can make a better living as an accountant 

18:24 I was gigging all the way through this

One day just left (23/24) his job and joined a quartet 


18:49 Created a comedy duo with your friend (Sanj) at uni (Bhaji boys and Secret Asians)

19:03 Very lovely, compassionate, empathic human being

19:11 No agenda, just used to muck around on stage

19:20 Sometimes I’d be riffing with him and we’d be improvising

 Discovered by 2 BBC producers and act developed into sitcom Goodness Gracious Me, first on radio 

The sitcom

19:37 Getting that visceral reaction from the audience

 19:45 I really enjoyed the immediacy and you kind of get a buzz off it 

20:03 When I was younger my natural reaction was to be intimidated, this changed it (when he saw a group of people walking towards him. Now more confident) 

20:18 (LL gives word) Empowering (the feeling of setting the agenda in the venue when he’s performing) 

to give someone more control over their life or more power to do something

Fifth track

20:28 It’s like a waterfall you can feel it 

20:56 It really draws you into a picture (talking of the piece, asked by Sadlers Wells to do a version of it) 


22:37 An assumption at the time that he’d be creating bhangra having seen his name 

22:55 Wanting to use some Indian Classical references, they’d say yeah right and then switch off

23:11 World Circuit Nick Gould’s record label: He really knows his stuff (talking of who supported him early on) 

23:18 Your fourth album Beyond Skin that would be your breakthrough 

23:36 I was really blown away that it got Mercury nominated (because it was really personal) 

24:17 I thought what the hell is going on because I’m making really personal statements 

24:28 Very rhythmically complex mathematically 

24:29 For that to have an acceptance in society was very exciting to me

Sixth track

24:52 Hearing him play with … was such a revelation 

Incredible to hear this combination 

25:15 The way they all work together seamlessly in one unit 


26:22 Working with Paul McCartney was a particular highlight

26:53 Everyone was frantically running around hoovering (trying to tidy the mess up for PM) 

27:33 They decided to have a jam at one point 

27:41 Later on at dinner PM started playing a note on the wine glass

Suggested that he came on the album just playing the wine glass but he came with his bass so they just wrote a song together!

Seventh track

28:11 Which is ironic (that there are so many great singers from Mali seeing as there was a ban on music there in 2012 so 50 musicians protested) 

Backing singers would throw up these clay pots and catch them it was very theatrical 

Awards due to success

29:26 You turned down an OBE in 2007

What changed your mind to accept CBE this year

29:45 Couldn’t handle the idea of the word empire after my name (dark historical associations)

Dad said would you not take it for my birthday which was coming up. Passed away in 2013. Got a letter on his dad’s birthday last year 

30:06 I’m into signs (so he took the CBE felt like he should) 

Wanted to acknowledge my mum and dad’s immigrant experience

It symbolised that experience 

30:38 I don’t want to sound disingenuous any award is an honour and a privilege 

31:06 (LL) Looking back on the boy taking refuge in his bedroom from the bullies what would you say to him? 

His response: nothing! - I wouldn’t want to change anything, wouldn’t want to interrupt the process)

Eighth track

31:46 His interpretation of Life on Mars in Portuguese

31:53 It’s lovely to hear that track stripped back just to guitar and vocals

Cast away process

32:44 One of my safe spaces to go in my head is the beach 

32:55 I get the feeling of infinity when I look at the ocean 

a space, time, or distance that continues without end or limits

a barren landscape stretching into infinity


33:12 The idea of the multiverse (parallel universes) 

33:22 It was like a pilgrimage, I need to understand this (went to see him speak at Oxford)


33:43 A desalinating water bottle

34:10 (LL) I just want to admire the engineering feat of the bottle