I listen to a great many styles of music—pop, R&B, classical, dubstep, even K-pop—but I had never listened to sitar music before, so Anoushka Shankar’s album Land of Gold was an entirely new musical experience for me. Learning that this album is inspired by the tragic death of a young refugee boy, I went into the listening hoping to sense the invocation of the refugee experience.
The first song that stuck out to me within the album was “Secret Heart.” The main attraction of this song is how well it mixes loud percussion instruments, such as drums and sticks, with the sitar and then breaks into an interlude of soft plucks of the sitar and the sound of running water. This mixture of loud, fast, vibrant noise and sad, melancholic, almost tired noises creates a unique soundscape that reminds one of a wild rush out of a country and the subsequent exhausted lingering of a long escape far away. Listening to this song, I felt extremely anxious in certain parts and sad in others, perhaps giving me a small idea as to what refugees go through.
And of course, my favorite song on the album was “Jump In (Crossing the Line),” featuring M.I.A. This song was unlike anything I had ever heard before. I thought that the cut, distorted, repeated sound of M.I.A.’s voice might clash with the sound of the sitar, but it worked and was a pleasure to listen to. The vocals sounded contemporary, but its repetition and near-incomprehensibility reminded me of an mantra, something that a religious person may say in prayer or meditation in their native tongue. Some words did stand out to me, such as “get your life” and “when I see that border I’m gonna cross the line.” These lyrics are within the rhetoric of power and resilience, which I would believe refugees must have in order to survive. After reflecting on these words, I had to take a moment to remind myself that I am privileged and that there are an ungodly number of people suffering from persecution who are seeking asylum and must literally “get their life.”
“Dissolving Boundaries” was my second favorite song. I have a weak spot in my heart for piano (since it is my favorite musical instrument), and it was very interesting to hear an Italian-made instrument that is evocative of European culture mixed with the Indian sitar. This song also included sound bites from the news covering the refugee crisis, and it was innovative to play all three modes of sound together. This song raised some dissonance within me since the piano part was so vibrant and jocund, which was contrapuntal to the jarring sadness of the refugee crisis being broadcast on the news; I felt light while listening, but was sobered by the bits of multimedia.
Finally, “Say Your Prayers” appealed to me quite a bit. I liked the simple, slow melody that gradually built up off of itself. The piece made me tranquil, which was a welcomed change since much of the album made my heart race. I would like to think that the song is an aubade, something that represents the hope of a new day and perhaps a new life.