George Harrison first brought the Sitar into popular music with Norwegian Wood back in 1965. The sound speaks of the “eastern” mysticism that led him to Hare Khrisna. To my ear it is a sound redolent of that era, and thus psychedelics. The soaring twisting high notes. The low building undertones and rhythms. *ploing ploing na na na ploing ploing* It’s a very evocative soundscape. More so than I can evoke by writing random syllables. You’d be surprised. *boingggg*
Shama Rahman and I met on a job a long time ago. She has a PhD in neuroscience, was a film star in Bangladesh, and now lives in the UK making science theatre and playing folk-punk sitar. She’s a true polymath, and great fun with it. We met because she needed to replace an actor at short notice in a show that was touring festivals. I wanted to tour those particular festivals and it aligned. The show was about Transhumanism, designer babies, modification versus humanity, art versus science. On tour alongside us were some neuroscientists from well respected institutions, giving lectures. Family men who cooked their own highs, electrocuted themselves in the brain on purpose and made notes, and would’ve cut bits out of their own hippocampus if they’d known it’d grow back. Obsessive, beautiful crazy people. Like my brother Max. True scientists. I grew up with them. I get them.
Five days after Shama and I first met we were in a field in Oxfordshire, at Wilderness Festival, and she got word that one of these strange voyagers had voyaged into a car crash and was too bashed up to do the lecture. We found out about half an hour before it was scheduled. A crowd was building. “I’ll do it.”
Almost immediately I’m standing in front of hundreds of people, and I’m talking about the history of performance enhancing drugs and their chemical effects on the brain, clutching a print out still hot from the printer, pretending to be the guy. I was sight reading, thus discovering and learning as I went along. There were slides, and bits where the text said “If you look at this part of the brain, you’ll see a much higher density of polypoly flammicitic groks.” I had to use my common sense on a live appraisal of the photo, to point at the groks. I learnt a lot by delivering that lecture – (despite the terminology not sticking). But I learnt something about neuroscience and more about sheer bloody front. At the end of the lecture it said “Any questions?” That’s where I drew the line. Much as I rock at improvising, that’s a bridge too far. “How do you ensure that the Crog Naglatisatch levels as per the Matthew Arnold Adelaide Research Tribunal are correctly swaggled?” I’m not going near that.
Shama and I decided we needed to stay in touch, and since then we’ve covered a lot of festivals together in different capacities. I was meant to be her driver for Bestival, where she’s playing tonight, but things got too positive and unpredictable workwise so I couldn’t risk three nights in a tent outside London right now. Which is why I went to support her pre-Bestival single launch at The Slaughtered Lamb.
Among other instruments she plays the Sitar beautifully, and sings in bangla and in English. Her set involves long periods of joyful improvisation with the musicians, like a proper jazz set. She’s channeling that period in the sixties when George shifted to mystic. She’s also just honestly playing her music. Her expression of her reality. Possibility and positivity aligning with music and spoken word. It’s powerful stuff, beauifully packaged and delivered, and Shama is a true artist.
Here she is tuning and checking that beautiful and strange beast of an instrument before the evening got beautiful and strange.