Land of Gold
Boat to Nowhere
Jump In (Cross the Line) - feat. M.I.A.
Land of Gold - feat. Alev Lenz
Remain the Sea ‒ feat. Vanessa Redgrave
Crossing the Rubicon
Say Your Prayers
Everyone is, in some way or another, searching for their own “Land of Gold”: a journey to a place of security, connectedness and tranquillity, which they can call home. This journey also represents the interior quest that we all take to find a sense of inner peace, truth and acceptance – a universal desire that unites humanity.
The seeds of Land of Gold originated in the context of the humanitarian plight of refugees. It coincided with the time when I had recently given birth to my second child. I was deeply troubled by the intense contrast between my ability to provide for my baby, and others who desperately wanted to provide the same security for their children but were unable to do so. It was a disturbing comparison that played on my mind, fuelled by a sense of growing outrage, that the mass displacement of this vulnerable tide of people had been caused by external political decisions and detached acts of war. It is tragic to think that we live in a world where our capacity to offer sanctuary to those uprooted by violent circumstances beyond their control is determined by geographical borders.
As I watched this nightmarish trauma unfold, graphically crystallized by the heart-wrenching images of the lifeless body of Syrian infant Aylan Kurdi washed-up on a Turkish beach – an event that shaped the album’s title song, “Land of Gold” – I felt overwhelmed with a sense of powerlessness to alleviate the suffering and injustice taking place as the world looked on. However, like many others, I was painfully aware that, while I was physically remote from their harrowing experience, it was impossible for me to deny my emotional connection, as a human being.
Land of Gold is the culmination of my journey to the interior, channelling my distress at the situation in a constructive way, exploring the stories of the voiceless and dispossessed. I believe that art can make a difference – it connects us to our hearts, bringing us back to what really matters. Music has the power to speak to the soul.
The narrative thread carried throughout the album evokes themes of disconnection, vulnerability and the underlying hope that persists in our darkest experiences. My instrument is the terrain in which I explore the gamut of emotional expression – evoking shades of aggression, anger and tenderness, while incorporating elements of classical minimalism, jazz, electronica and Indian classical styles.
The process of recording this album was integral to creating a fluid, cohesive sound. The initial recordings, which went on to define the sound of the album, took place outside of a sanitized studio environment, in a remote rural setting in Tuscany. In these early stages, I had the privilege of working with a core team of gifted musicians. Manu Delago, the world’s foremost Hang player, was in many ways my main partner in making Land of Gold, co-writing nearly all the pieces and also playing across the album on Hang and multiple percussion instruments. Sanjeev Shankar, a student of my father, plays a searingly emotional instrument called the shehnai, a reed instrument from India. The three of us, my husband Joe Wright – whose film-making sensibilities helped to shape and add depth to the mood and energy of the album – and my longtime engineer Julian Hepple stayed on a farm together and worked from the ground up, shaping a core sound and mood that would define the album as a whole. In this way, we were able to integrate the ambience of nature and life that surrounded us. The remote setting also gave us the space to experiment with and blend our styles, responding to each other while playing, and so producing layering and depth.
Separate from my desire to have an established core sound at the musical heart of this album, thematically, I wanted to integrate the authority of the female voice, and the drive for women to establish personal autonomy and dignity in situations where the female perspective is often, sometimes forcibly, subdued. I have been lucky to collaborate with some incredible female guest artists who helped me to bring this across. The unapologetically hard-hitting M.I.A. features on “Jump In (Cross the Line)” and the veteran political activist Vanessa Redgrave contributes an elegant rendering of a poem written by the viscerally expressive poet Pavana Reddy on “Remain the Sea”. Alev Lenz offers her evocative vocal skills on the title piece, “Land of Gold”, and the inspirational Girls for Equality children’s choir features on the closing piece, “Reunion”.
The incredible electronic producer Matt Robertson added cinematic soundscapes, textures and production details that greatly enhanced the storytelling and mood of Manu Delago’s and my initial compositions. The contribution of Larry Grenadier, the eminent jazz double bassist, blurred the boundaries of genre, characterizing the stylistic fluidity of the album, while the renowned cellist Caroline Dale elicits powerful emotional content in the title piece, “Land of Gold”, and in the opening piece, “Boat to Nowhere”.
The contribution of acclaimed dancer Akram Khan fits in well in an album about movement and travelling. We recorded Akram dancing with bells on his feet to depict these aspects. Akram’s rhythms are featured to capture the desperate energy of refugees arriving in Europe in “Dissolving Boundaries” and a sense of burgeoning optimism in the closing piece, “Reunion”.
There is a narrative journey imagined through the sequence of the music: beginning with hopefully stepping into the unknown in “Boat to Nowhere”; crowds of people triumphantly crossing a border in “Dissolving Boundaries”; a weary traveller seizing the moment and running for his life in “Last Chance”; a terrible struggle climaxing in “Crossing the Rubicon”. The horror of children needing to make this terrifying journey played constantly on my mind, and both “Land of Gold” and “Say Your Prayers” explore a parent’s role in keeping children cocooned and protected from the trauma around them as much as possible. I felt the need to bring the narrative arc of Land of Gold to an optimistic conclusion through the closing piece, “Reunion”: the upbeat and playful tempo evokes tentative new beginnings and emotional freedom, encapsulating the central message of Land of Gold as the recognition of the resilience of the human spirit and of our capacity to find the place where enduring hope resides.
~ Anoushka Shankar