How Nitin Sawhney went from sketch show to La Strada

Nitin Sahwney

Nitin Sahwney - Credit: Archant

Nitin Sawhney describes himself as a victim of “quantum weirdness”. It is a phrase that typifies the South London man’s ­intellect – he’s even bothered to ­research the science behind ­extreme coincidence.

These occurrences have sprung up in his life for decades and have clearly provided him with food for thought. Why for instance, years after establishing himself as one of the UK’s most pioneering musicians, did Sawhney set out in search of a tabla player from his childhood, only to eventually discover this boy was now in fact his flatmate?

Why, when he once sat in a restaurant telling his manager he wanted to collaborate with Coldplay, did he turn around to find Chris Martin happily chatting on the table behind?

Quantum weirdness

Some might call it quantum weirdness; others might call it creating your own luck. As Sawhney himself says, “music stimulates a lot of change and a lot of coincidence.”

You may also want to watch:

Chance is on his side then, ­because the 49-year-old has been obsessed with music his entire life.

While it’s therefore ironic that Sawhney came to fame alongside Sanjeev Bhaskar in the Indian sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, his subsequent and substantial success as a solo musician has been no coincidence.

Most Read

“Well it’s quite interesting you say that,” he replies, when I suggest that he’s become one of the most prominent figures in British Asian culture, “because some say that, and then some will go ‘you’re a DJ’, ‘you’re a composer’.”

His reputation as the latter has certainy blossomed over the last decade, especially with an Ivor Novello nomination and Sawhney’s recent work on the BBC’s Human Planet. Now however, he is set to pay tribute to one of his favourite composers, Nino Rota, at the Barbican, performing La Strada as part of a night devoted to the celebrated Italian composer.

“It’s a gorgeous track and one that’s gone through so many different interpretations,” says Sawhney. “I’m hoping to take it more into a jazz realm. The main thing I don’t want to do is lose the feeling, it’s so atmospheric and that’s just brought through by the melody.”

Sawhney is a huge fan of Rota – who is known to many as the composer behind the celebrated Godfather soundtracks – and places him in the same breath as Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone.

“It’s always interesting when you find a composer whose melodies evoke mood without harmony,” he adds, “which is often very hard to achieve.”

There is something unique about composition work that seems to attract Sawhney and he explains how “you can really find your way into a script through the music”.

Radio show

He is awash with other projects.Plans are being putting together ideas for his tenth studio album, Dystopian Dream, and that’s in addition to collaboration work with Joss Stone and a constant stream of up-and-coming artists.

“I try and work with people who are kind of fresh, and recently I’ve been doing a lot more stuff in the studio. But then on my radio show, Radio 2 seem happy to let me pretty much play what I want. So one minute it’ll be Radiohead, the next an Indian classical track – it’s a lot of fun.”

Sawhney’s interests are branching out beyond music. In the last couple of weeks, he’s recently recorded a TED talk about Einstein and Bengali Polymath Rabindranath Tagore – a subject he has also written a play about and hopes to show at the Barbican in 2015.

With drama on the mind, would he ever consider going back to television and something like Goodness Gracious Me?

“There is a particular script I’ve been developing,” he reveals, “that’s more in the style of The Office or Extras, and I’m hoping I can do something with that soon.

“But generally no, I’m not really an actor. Goodness Gracious Me was more of a way to hang out with a bunch of friends – I don’t feel I need to be a focal point of attention. I just like to create stuff.”

Nitin Sawhney performs as part of Amarcord Nino Rota at the Barbican on Friday November 22. For more information, visit

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter