As a teenager she formed the band Monsoon, and created a fusion of Western (synthpop) and Indian pop styles. She married Steve Coe, who became the band's producer, and along with Martin Smith, the band evolved into this talented trio. They made a lone album Third Eye in 1982 from which they had a surprise hit single "Ever So Lonely". Monsoon recorded a varied selection of songs. Chandra and Monsoon covered The Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows in this period.
However, resenting pressure from their record company over musical direction, Monsoon as a band dissolved and Coe and Smith set about promoting Chandra as a solo artist on an independent label.
Chandra went on to release a number of albums in the 1980s, at times experimenting with her voice as an instrument through a range of techniques. In the 1990s she released three albums on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, although Martin Smith ceased to be actively involved.
Shift to British and Irish folk influenced singing
Since 1992 she has shifted from the Indian-Western fusion of synthesizer-centered pop to styles that draw on British and Irish traditional singing traditions.
Chandra is a much-respected performer on the world music scene and remains active into the 21st Century.
In 2002 she performed the song entitled Breath Of Life with Howard Shore for the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack.
Monsoon formed in Spring 1981. The original members were Sheila Chandra (vocals), Steve Coe (piano) and Martin Smith (guitars).
Sheila was just leaving Italia Conti - a theatre arts school in London - and had been in BBC TV's 'Grange Hill' for several years (at the time, one of the most radical kids TV programmes). She played Sudhamani Patel - a stereo-typically reserved and sulky Asian girl who was being set up for an arranged marriage and whose family ran a corner shop.
Also in her early teens Sheila had been in a boy/girl band being developed as a project by Hansa records who were riding high with their success with Donna Summer. The band never got as far as releasing anything and the project, though ahead of itâs time, was dropped.
Monsoon were aware of the great sixties psychedelic era, but it had consisted mostly of a few tracks or albums from groups using an Indian influence as a sideline experiment. Even Ravi Shankar's musical fusion experiments were a sideline to his main job - being the world's most famous sitarist! For Monsoon the genre was totally central. It was their raison de`tre to evolve and push the boundaries of Indian influenced pop music.
'NADA BRAHMA was my fourth album for Indipop Records. I recorded it during a hectic 24-month phase between 1983 and 1985 that produced a total of four albums. It was a period in my life characterised by rebellion. A time that was triggered by me less-than-happy experiences with a major record company towards the end of my contract with them as the lead singer of Monsoon (a then radical Asian fusion band).
By the time I was 17, I had glimpsed at the music industry’s potential to turn me into a machine for turning out artistic product. I refused to let myself become that. So, at 18, I signed to a tiny independent label called Indipop where I could continue my musical apprenticeship in the field of Asian fusion.
During this four-album period for Indipop, I did not perform live, decided not to release singles and did very little promotion. Consequently, I was able to devote my time exclusively to the creative process in the studio. In spite of the lack of promotion, my albums were selling well by word of mouth to a small, dedicated following around the world.
With no marketing or commercial restrictions on me, I really enjoyed the arena of musical freedom I had created. At the time, so little had been done in the Asian fusion area, particularly vocally, that the field was wide open and there were many musical ideas I wanted to explore.
For instance, on this album, Nada Brahma (Sound is Divine) is a 27-minute piece loosely based on Raga Jog. Having established the raga (fixed note scale) and deciding there would be no drums or lyrics, we went off to write the various themes and variations. We were playing around with the limits of what an audience would accept, with unusual musical arrangements and structures, and with the voice as an instrument.
I enjoyed writing by myself, but it was also good to have two other writers — Steve Coe and Martin Smith — each of whom knew my voice and were working to the same end in a musical style that was still embryonic, evolving, and which had no contemporary comparison.
Looking back, I think my willingness to push my voice creatively into new areas (which were often not ‘pretty’ vocally) was fuelled by the knowledge that I had complete creative control over the recordings. If I didn’t like the track or the final mix, Indipop couldn’t release it. It gave me the confidence to be on the edge artistically and that, in turn, provided Indipop with some unique recordings.
Sheila Chandra 1995
Reflecting on one’s teen years can be a squeamish experience. Most of us will admit to traveling down at least a few dubious paths during those days. But when vocalist Sheila Chandra reflects on that era, she has a lot to be proud of. For her, those years represent a groundbreaking musical exploration that significantly influenced the development and acceptance of world music.
Does it feel strange to promote albums that are more than a decade old?
Sheila Chandra's fourth Indipop album, released in 1985 in a limited edition before she took a five-year hiatus, sets the stage for the ethereal vocal style she explored during the 1990s. Comprised of five songs, Nada Brahma spotlights a younger Chandra exploring numerous vocal techniques. The 27-minute title track showcases her lush vocals in an intriguing (if loosely connected) series of vocal maneuvers--ethereal streams of sound, appealing Indian melodies, and staccato-syllable dances. This is beguiling, organic ambient music with occasional accompaniment by keyboards, percussion, or other instruments.
The other four tracks are more rhythmically grounded examples of Anglo-Indian fusion, including the gently hypnotic atmospheric pop of "The Awakening" and the energetic dance pulse of "Question the Answer," which features Chandra singing in English. While this early album may not have the flow or cohesiveness of later efforts like AboneCroneDrone, Nada Brahma spotlights a heavenly voice expanding its expressiveness and is recommended for fans of Chandra and of beautiful vocal music. --Bryan Reesman
early Sheila, May 21, 2001
Reviewer: Alejandra Vernon "artist & illustrator" (Long Beach, California)
The first track of this CD is an inventive exploration of different vocal sounds...Sheila writes in the insert: "The musical story of 'Nada Brahma' ('Sound is God') was a perfect vehicle for me as a writer and singer to illustrate a great variety of Indian and pop vocal styles"...and it set the stage for work she'd be doing a decade later.
The rest of the tracks are "Indi-pop" with a steady beat..."The Awakening", "In Essence", and "Question the Answer" were written by Steve Coe and Martin Smith, and the best of the 3 is perhaps "Question the Answer" which has lyrics (in English) and some marvelous instrumentation...but my favorite track is "Raqs", an up-tempo precussive piece penned by Sheila.
This is an interesting CD if you like world music, and it's an example of what this creative artist has done in one of the many phases of her career.
Over the last few years I've become somewhat saturated in East-Indian influenced music. For the longest time, my personal favorite was Peter Gabriel's "Passion" (the soundtrack to Last Temptation). I'm into everything from Ar Rahman and Jai Uttal to Krishna Das, Joi, and Bally Sagoo (for those of you who want to try Bally Sagoo, get Ballywood Flashback II...I heard this while walking along a street in Toronto and bought it on the spot. Bhangra is SO cool!)But the best of the best, I have to say, is Sheila Chandra. Specifically, "Roots & Wings." Her voice is other-worldly and is supported by waves of tablas, congas, gongs, bells, zings, drones...An amazing album to have sex to....Astonishingly good. I also enjoy "A Bone Crone Drone" and the western-influenced "Monsoon," but "Roots & Wings" stands waaaay above them both.
The lovely enchantress Sheila Chandra uses her incredible voice as a vehicle transporting the listener to another time, another place. Mystical, ethereal she slowly hypnotizes her passengers with repetition of sounds and phrases, like a holy mantra with no beginning and no end.
Truly a voyage of wonder and discovery awaits the listener. Turn down the lights, rest comfortably and close your eyes. Welcome to the 'World within the Voice.'
Being an early fan of "raga-rock" and other eastern-type music years ago, I had since left it for more acoustic pop stylings. A few years ago I walked into the Borders in Minneapolis with my wife and when I sat down to read some books, I was totally mesmerized by the chants drifting over the speakers, practically lifting me up out of my chair and inviting me on a journey of exploration. Sort of a truthfulness I hadn't been aware of. I HAD to have the album! It was Shelia's 'Roots and Wings' - and I play it at home still whenever I have the chance.
It's outstanding background music for relaxing, letting the bonds of time just slip away (seriously..). Obviously this may sound "new ageish", but even from my Christian viewpoint, it's still a delightful trip for the senses.
Never having experienced Chandra before this was a great first taste and I will purchase more of her music. This recording sounds as if an Indian princess listen to Jean Michael-Jarre's Zoolook and any of Laurie Anderson's recordings and then got caught up in the spirit. I did feel like I was taken to a lovely world of Indian exotica.