Putting the black in the Union Jack

My interview with Bishi Bhattacharya is printed in the new issue of New Internationalist (May 2012 cover date). In it, Bishi speaks not only about her musical journey – from a background steeped in a classical Indian tradition to more recent studies of the harmonic works and vocal techniques of 20th-century avant-garde leaders such as Ligeti, Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk – but the minimal representation of women of colour in British pop. She cites works by Michael Bracewell (England Is Mine) and Sukdev Sandhu (London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined A City), but the work of Paul Gilroy (There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack) is not far behind.

Bishi’s new single, ‘Albion Voice’ is released today. It’s a brilliantly articulate reframing of Englishness within a global cultural remit: Bishi’s got a big, far-reaching voice and the song’s pop-folk feel also features her on sitar. She and her musical team, which includes composers Neil Kaczor and Matthew Harden plus politician Tony Benn and the Kronos Quartet, astutely reference the folk music excursions of earlier musicians like Robbie Basho and John Fahey, both guitarists whose tunings turned eastwards in their modalities. That today is also St George’s Day is no coincidence, for Bishi is quite rightly laying claim to an English heritage as an inclusive ideal.

‘Albion Voice’ is one smart pop record, and it’s followed by Bishi’s second album of the same name on 28 May – just in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Those of a certain age will remember the Sex Pistols’ antics for the 1977 Jubilee. This one is a sight more savvy – and musical.

Albion Voice is out now on Gryphon Records. 

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