As a person who has not ventured much into the world of Indian music, only hearing the sitar within the Western contexts of the experimental songs by the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, Anoushka Shankar’s Land Of Gold was an insightful listen. Shankar begins her album with a track called “Boat of Nowhere” which indicates an uncertain sense of wandering that is greatly shared among refugees. The song effectively “sets the scene” for the rest of the album. Shankar’s sitar provides a powerful image of the East and its pattern in this song becomes turbulent. I could imagine “Boat of Nowhere” in the background of a chase scene, maybe throughout a rural village or among the tall trees of a indigenous jungle, in an Asian movie. She utilizes the same instrument with “Secret Heart” and “Last Chance” but takes a different tone. After the songs begin softly, they become noisy quickly and provoke the image of a busy street market instead. “Secret Heart” and “Last Chance” slow down and build up again, mirroring the vigorous emotions of people who are searching for a better life in a foreign land. On the other hand, “Say Your Prayers” and “Reunion” act as a relaxing alternative by following a slower caidance instead.
“Jump In (Cross the Line)” features M.I.A., who may be considered as a qualified speaker to the album’s themes due to her personal backstory of relocating to the United Kingdom from Sri Lanka. Her vocals are quite soft on the track, which is surprising due to the fierceness of her discography. M.I.A.’s feature is an interesting experiment, becoming choppy at first, but eventually forms into coherent words. The lyrics of “when I see that border” reflect the refugee’s search of a better life.
In “Dissolving Boundaries,” Shankar’s sitar does not appear at the beginning and almost creeps into the song slowly. This pattern evokes the image of relaxing near a lake, hidden underneath a weeping willow tree, while a subtle humidity sways in the wind. The track includes a news sample, providing the listeners with information about the refugee experience that instruments cannot. Alev Lenz contributes soft vocals that are complimented well with the backing instruments in “Land of Gold.” Her words sound like a lullaby, maybe something that a refugee would say to her child while they are traveling together.
“Remain The Sea” became my favorite track of Land of Gold from the first listen. The choice of Vanessa Redgrave, an actress who is famous for her passionate performances, over an actual singer was interesting to me. Redgrave’s spoken lyrics were well done, easily creating the image of a bard who is telling an ancient story around a crowded campfire. The audience chants later in the song, as if they almost approve of her oration.