Sheila Chandra has one of the most beautiful, mysterious, expressive voices that I have ever heard, and it’s a shame that injuries have kept her from performing or recording for more than short stretches for several years now. The last new tracks she released were a couple of pieces on Real World’s 1999 Moonsung compilation, but her last full album was 1996’s AboneCroneDrone. To fill the void until her next new CD, Narada World has been re-releasing albums that Chandra recorded for the microlabel Indipop in the mid-1980s.
Nada Brahma is the fourth of these releases, originally recorded in 1985. The real attraction here is the 27-minute title track. Considering the nearly nonexistent market for experimental vocal music, which was even worse then than now, it took a lot of guts for Chandra to cancel most promotional appearances, stop making accessible pop singles, and concentrate on exploring the outer limits of the realms to which her voice could take her in the studio. “Nada Brahma (Sound is Divine)” is the luminous record of one such journey. From a warm, enveloping cushion wrapped around psychedelic-sounding sitar at the beginning of the track to a gentle moaning over atmospheric synth backing like an echoing wind in a holy place to the percussive techniques and spoken nonsense syllables that she used to such excellent effect on her later Real World albums, Chandra’s voice transcends the bounds of pop music to become an instrument of devotion dedicated to the heart of sound itself. Sometimes the experimental nature of the piece becomes a bit too obvious, but for the most part this track is a fine showcase for Chandra’s vocal wizardry.
Narada, 4650 N. Port Washington Rd., Milwaukee, WI, 53212-1063, http://www.narada.com