Chaos can be calming, sometimes it can lead to artistic expression. That is exactly what led Singapore-based Carnatic singer Sushma Soma to produce her album Home. Each song in the album has a story of its own, holding both personal as well as global significance. It was inspired by various events that the singer observed around her.
“Home began as an introspection of my relationship with nature and the environment. I was gutted as I witnessed and read about events unfolding around the world — from the pregnant elephant in India being fed a pineapple loaded with firecrackers when she was caught in a man-animal conflict, to gorillas scrambling for safety amidst armed militia violence, forest logging and poaching in the Congo, and the loss of indigenous plant and wildlife in the Amazon and Indonesian forest fires,” she says.
The song The Elephant’s Funeral, which mourns for the elephant in Kerala, gave Sushma the opportunity to work with Nadaswaram and Parai artistes. Sharing her experience working with them, she says, “The song was the first time I explored a collaboration with Nadaswaram and Parai artistes. Working on this song also made me aware of the complexities and problems that lie in the Carnatic form and marginalised instruments and art forms. This learning about the history and politics of Carnatic was very important to me as a Carnatic musician.”
Sushma’s agitation was eased by channelling all of her emotions into the album. The songs in the album portray a range of emotions, while metamorphosing soothing vocals into music. The song Nature employs the handpan and Carnatic raga Hamsadhwani and improvisational elements Virutham in the background which amplify the tenderness of the lyrics, celebrating the elements of nature.
“The Academy Award winning documentary film My Octopus Teacher inspired the track Nature in the album. It was so special to be able to share the track with them. Nature was also featured on BBC at the Earthshot Awards in October 2021. It was such a memorable moment for me. I grew up watching BBC documentaries. To have one of the tracks featured in a show that speaks about finding solutions for sustainability - that was incredible for me,” says Sushma excitedly.
Talking about a rather off-the-wall song in the album, Man II, which begins with every day conversations and slowly diverges into sounds of materials and things used in our everyday life that harm nature, she says, “It explores the casual and whimsical attitudes of man towards nature. The song uses sounds from our everyday lives that impact our environmental landscapes juxtaposed with a playful melody inspired from a song composed by the prolific Carnatic composer, Muthuswamy Dikshitar. These compositions, known as Nottusvaram are distinct in the Carnatic repertoire, because they are inspired by the western band music during British rule in the 1700s. Just as India was colonised by the West, Nature here is colonised by humans.
“The original song by Dikshitar references the vices of humans - Loba, Krodha, Moha, Mada - Greed, Anger, Delusion and Arrogance, respectively. Man II explores how these vices have essentially colonised Nature and how it is not just violence and vindictiveness that ruins our environment, but our apathy, complacency and convenience in our everyday choices cause equal, if not more, destruction.”
Sushma hopes to create an awareness among people through the way known best to her — music.