What does the panel discussion, the live event, the reading or the performance look like in the age of quarantine? In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic life as mediated by Zoom has become common, a new atomised form of socialisation. In this context of atomisation, few truly creative responses have emerged – engagements that challenge the presuppositions of how a lecture or salon might work in our new mediated age. Enter the TIDE Salon, a radical new archive and groundbreaking interactive multimedia collaboration between the European Research Council-funded TIDE project (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, c. 1550–1700), award-winning novelist Preti Taneja, six extraordinary sound and spoken-word artists, curator and creative producer Sweety Kapoor, and critically acclaimed filmmaker Ben Crowe (ERA Films).
Taking the intimate ghar (home)-style salon as its inspiration, TIDE Salon evokes the creative atmosphere of early modern European or Mughal salons, with their mix of scholars, poets and artists. In this setting, TIDE Salon explores ubiquitous, devisive words that ignite racism and fuel contemporary debate about belonging and identity – alien, stranger, foreigner, traveller, exile, citizen – showing how their meanings were originally shaped by travel, trade and colonialism in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The result is an interactive installation, devised by Preti Taneja, curated by Sweety Kapoor and created by Ben Crowe, that showcases the work created through the project – at the same time emphasising the artists’ collaborations across the tides of history. The digital installation is framed by strange fragments of writing from somewhere in the future, and allows visitors to navigate their own routes through the site and through time. No two journeys are ever the same.
Introduction to TIDE: by Nandini Das
What did it mean to be a stranger in 16th- and 17th-century England? How were other nations, cultures and religions perceived? And what happened when individuals moved between languages, countries, religions, and spaces? “Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, c. 1550-1700 (TIDE: Keywords)” is a five-year interdisciplinary project I am directing that explores the development of the ideas of belonging and betweenness in early modern England. It was evident from the outset that not only did certain terms recur in different discourses, but they repeatedly illuminate points of tension, debate, and change. Tracing such terms is challenging, precisely because of the shifting and ambiguous nature of the descriptors. Lived experience in England and particularly in London was complex enough due to the sheer range of its populace. John Eliot’s French-English manual, the Ortho-epia Gallice (1593), illustrates the multicultural, multilingual space in one of its model dialogues:
“Where shall I find you about twelve a clocke?”
“I will be below in the Change, either walking among the Italians, or truking with the French, or pratling amongst our English, or carousing with the Flemings at the Cardinal’s Hat.”
Terminology for describing this multitude created new complications. In London, for instance, the term “foreigner” was usually used legally to denote someone from another city: by that definition, playwrights such as Christopher Marlowe (born in Canterbury) and William Shakespeare (born in Stratford-upon-Avon) were both “foreigners” in London. This was not simply a matter of civic law, but had economic implications as well. English law and taxation practices denoted travellers from other nations as “strangers” and “aliens”. Those of that group who permanently settled in the city and negotiated rights to escape alien custom duties and taxes were “denizens” and habitually distinguished both from people born in London (“free denizens”) and others of their own nations simply passing through, such as merchants, casual travellers, scholars, or diplomats and their retinue. Bringing in questions of nationhood, race and ethnicity further complicates the issue: the definition and status of “stranger-born” subjects and “English-born strangers”, as recent scholarship has shown, was hardly consistent even within the period in question.
There is an established scholarly tradition emphasising English xenophobia and anxiety about how immigrant communities – from the French and the Dutch, to the Jews and Africans or “Moors” – were taking up state and national resources that rightfully belonged to the “native-born” English. Increasingly, though, new research has demanded a reassessment of such preconceptions, revealing the multiple ways in which conflicting affiliations, whether based on shared faith or craft, and practical conditions of living and work in close proximity, could complicate easy binaries of differentiation.
Focusing on those figures who operated beyond settled communities and groups, the definition and status of diplomats, exiles, and converts, and those who defined themselves explicitly as being outside legal boundaries, such as pirates and mercenaries, was equally ambiguous. In early modern thinking about diplomacy, a fine distinction, for example, applied to the remit of ambassadors appointed by the monarch, and those appointed by the state but funded by the trading companies, such as William Harborne, the English ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the pay of the Levant Company. Affiliations to company and state, in such cases, meant a careful balance had to be wrought in any act of mediation. How did such balancing of multiple claims help to redraw boundaries and redefine definitions?
Complexity lies also in the way concepts and ideas travelled from the Continent to England, and across discursive fields within England. A telling illustration of how concepts of difference in religious discourse could shape economic and political decision-making was the argument used to justify the English state’s authorisation of the Virginia Company’s activities in America. It was based on Sir Edward Coke’s uncompromising claim that all non-Christian infidels were aliens, perpetui enemici or perpetual enemies, with whom no accommodation was possible, “for between them, as with devils, whose subjects they be, and the Christians, there is perpetual hostility, and can be no peace.” How did the transfer of concepts from other countries and other discursive fields produce conflict as well as consensus?
In examining these issues, “TIDE: Keywords” follows the model of Raymond Williams’ Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976). In his introduction to the first edition, Williams argued that the meanings of certain crucial, recurrently used words were “inextricably bound up with the problems [they] were being used to discuss”. His twofold definition of such keywords as “significant, binding words in certain activities and their interpretation” and “significant, indicative words in certain forms of thought” continues to be a useful one to interrogate words that sometimes tend to be under-analysed in both popular and critical discourse. They help to illuminate what Williams had described as: “a history and complexity of meanings; conscious changes, or consciously different uses; innovation, obsolescence, specialisation, extension, overlap, transfer; or changes which are masked by a nominal continuity so that words which seem to have been there for centuries, with continuous general meanings, have come in fact to express radically different or radically variable, yet sometimes hardly noticed, meanings and implications of meaning.”
The selection of words examined in “TIDE: Keywords” all reveal similarly complex histories of usage; in many cases, the concepts, preconceptions, and debates that they embody (or subsume) came to play seminal roles in articulations of identity, rights, and power in subsequent periods.
Our aim is not to settle on a single definitive description, but to illuminate precisely the complexity – and often, the multiplicity – inherent in the usage of these terms in early modern English. Each essay and citation of usage emphasises the fact that the terms in question share a certain slipperiness, that they are altered, revised and transformed repeatedly by multiple imperatives. “TIDE: Keywords” will continue to be a work in progress throughout the duration of the project, with new examples and interrogations added as fresh material emerges through our collective research.
First project Zoom – all participants
Steven Savale Do you guys know C.L.R. James, the Trinidadian Marxist? He gave a lecture on Shakespeare. Now, I’ve never read Othello, but Othello’s lead character is a Moor, so he would fall into the general term of Black or person of colour. There were people in the audience saying, “Well, this is a play about racism”, and James said, “Well, no, it isn’t.” In the play, there is prejudice against Othello, not because he’s Black but because he’s a Moor: because there simply was not the ideology of racism as we now know it when Shakespeare wrote that play. That’s always stuck with me, though I’ve never read or studied Shakespeare, and that was actually the first thing that came to mind when I read the project outline, something I saw about 40 years ago when I was a teenager. I also read a book when I was a teenager: David Bowie starred in a film called The Man Who Fell to Earth and I was too young to see it, but I read the book. There was a great moment in it where the character is an “alien” from another planet. And they say the only thing we can get you on legally, sir, is that you are an illegal immigrant. So that’s why the first word that I liked was “alien”, and I would love to explore the history of “alien”.
Preti Taneja That’s absolutely brilliant. There are some really interesting ideas there, especially kind of pulling on your childhood memories because we all have these deep embedded parts of language in us that we need to reclaim. Words like “swarm” can mean one thing to one person, and actually have this other meaning, which is super-intelligence. And, you know, questions of identity in this group are very open really because there are many different languages, many different kinds of backgrounds, and nobody is actually one thing or two things here, so it’s going to be really exciting to see what comes up. Any other thoughts?
Sarathy Korwar Yeah, just a quick one. I think, because both Dana and I – since we are paired together and the fact that we’re both first-generation immigrants to this country, both from former countries of empire, of colonial rule – think it would be really interesting to talk about the words that are borrowed into the English language from places that we’re from, and our relationship to those words, but also the relationship that people have here to those words and how that makes us feel, potentially.
Zia Ahmed “Aliens” – I’m cool with “aliens”. From what you were saying, Steve, about this thing about coming over and – just looking at recent days, especially with this stuff about taking TV shows off BBC or Netflix and with the statues being taken down – I’ve been thinking about a phrase, and I’m just bouncing off you, but I’ve been thinking about “the world’s gone mad”, about definitions of one person’s “world gone mad” versus another’s.
SS I really like the idea of looking at the origin of words or trying to put yourself between, they say, 1500 and 1700, but then also putting yourself in the future at the same time. Sort of like, bounce way back and then way forward to see where these words are actually going to end up. Where they came from and where they’re going to end up. “Alien” is just a crazy word when you think about it, because it has this huge science-fiction connotation. Obviously that’s a really recent addition to the meaning of the word “alien”, isn’t it? It’s probably the most updated and different word on the list. Because “alien” was a bureaucratic word at one point. I mean one of our very early Asian Dub Foundation photoshoots we did outside a place in Whitehall, which was once called the Alien Registration Office.
Nandini Das As researchers we spend ages looking through things called the Registers of Aliens, which England kept every year. We had registers of aliens in England from the 1500s.
SS That’s what I’m saying. What a radical redefinition of the word. Why was that word used? Why did that become associated with little green men from planet Uranus? Two of my favourite artists, two of the greatest artists ever, describe themselves as “aliens”. There’s a long interview with Nina Simone in which she talks about how she always felt like an “alien”, and then you’ve got someone like Sun Ra, who not only felt like an “alien”, but quite clearly started to believe he was one.
PT And Bowie, who you mentioned earlier.
SS It’s a bit different with Bowie, I think. Or maybe, I don’t know. But I think that with Sun Ra and Nina Simone, you’ve got the Black experience, the Afro-American experience, directly related to feeling like an “alien” from another world. Whereas in Sun Ra, he’s actually got a whole universe of his music and his approach and his language and everything, all about being from another planet. You’ve really got me here, because why was it that the thing I watched most when I was eight or nine that really meant something to me, was science-fiction TV, which was relatively progressive at the time? If you wanted to see women flying aeroplanes or Black people running moon bases you look for television science fiction. That was all we had – for me, it was all I had in the early 1970s – to make me feel positive.
PT That’s so important: how culture shapes your imagination when you’re young and the possibilities of culture. That’s kind of what we’re trying to break up here, the stranglehold of a certain kind of cultural narrative on our times right now. Thank God that moment in the 1970s happened.
SS Something really relevant now is the removal of statues and the debates around that as well. Look at the statues of slave traders, and it’s like you’re growing up in an “alien” world. We’ve got all these kinds of symbols of whole systems and a whole ideology that excludes you, and you want to strike back and you want to kick back and you want to kick over the statues. That kind of sparks a lot as well.
ZA Nandini, you said something before about how “the culture evolves through invisible debate”. What’s an invisible debate? I mean, how do you get involved in an invisible debate?
ND There were two things that I was trying to talk about there. One was that culture means basically assuming that people all think the same when they share a certain culture, so there’s an assumption of agreement. But under that assumption of agreement, there’s always multiple debates that go on. Take Steven’s discussion of the word “alien”, for instance. There are a lot of layers of assumptions about what an “alien” might mean in our contemporary culture. It kind of goes in circles. Early on, “aliens” were foreigners who came over here “to take our jobs”. Then they became science fiction, little green men. But now, think about the debates about “strangers” or “immigrants”; they’re quite often being characterised as those “invaders from Mars” kind of characters. So, there’s always an underlying invisible layer of people having a tussle about their control on words, and trying to impose the fact that what they mean by a certain word is what the general culture – or in our current debate, “the public” – means by that word. Except that no one quite knows who that public is and whether there is a single public either. That’s what I was trying to get at, Zia.
ZA And the keywords, are they being debated specifically in terms of them being English words, or in terms of words all over?
ND You mean in terms of other languages? We are focusing mainly on English words. So, the words we picked were words that we realised were being used quite often. They are kind of high-frequency words that are constantly being used in this period, in churches, in law courts, in politics, at the parliament, and on stage by poets. There’s a fantastic resource which puts together every book in English printed from 1500 to 1700, basically, and they’ve all been digitised and you can search through them. So we did that, and we put together this list of about 40 words about race and identity that keep cropping up in those books, because that gives you an indicator of what people used, the vocabulary of difference or labelling that people used.
PT We’re going to share some of that process, that people who did the keywords – Nandini’s team – so you can build that into your thinking and your responses if you want to; it’s really fascinating. Nandini, do you trace etymologies? With these keywords, did you say, OK, this word came from India?
ND Every keyword essay starts off by telling you where the word comes from. And some of it is Oxford English Dictionary based, but because the OED started off as a Victorian dream it has its own problems. So sometimes we go beyond the OED. The main thing that each of these essays focuses on is how these particular words changed in the period that we’re looking at. And the reason that’s really interesting or really powerful is because the period that we’re looking at was when Britain was playing catch up with Spain and Portugal and the Dutch and trying to become a global player. So there was a big chip on English shoulders about not being active enough and not having an empire, so it becomes really powerful later on. But also because this is the time of the first big immigration crisis. I mean, Steven, you were talking about the whole “coming over here, taking our jobs” dialogue. The earliest big debate about that is in the Parliament in 1607 and in 1614, when Sir Walter Raleigh talks exactly about that, all these immigrants coming over here, taking our jobs. We need to shut them out, make Britain great again.
SS Was it the Huguenots? Who were the immigrants then?
ND The Protestant Huguenots were a large group of them, but not just the Huguenots. There were Dutch immigrants as well. There was a lot of anxiety about sailors who were being brought over. The English had started going abroad, but there was about a 70% mortality rate on ships. So once you had got somewhere you needed people to bring those ships back. I grew up in Bengal, in India, so I have a particular interest in stories – little traces – in which you can see Bengali sailors from current Bangladesh being brought back. The first Indian to be baptised in England was a Bengali boy, a 15-year-old Bengali boy who was brought back. He was renamed Peter Pope. [Laughter]
PT That was in the 1600s?
PT It’s like, poke this brain and just all this amazing information comes out. It’s such a privilege to hear you talk about the project.
ND I mean, we think of it partly as: we’re relearning how to tell stories. Talking simply about works in the abstract doesn’t work. So much of our work has been about excavating these stories, not just about the Black slaves who were being traded or the Indian sailor boy brought over and taught Latin, so that he could do a performance in church, but also Dutch immigrants coming over and writing letters back home. We’ve got a wonderful letter that we found in an archive from a hatmaker who had escaped from Spanish interrogation, and come over to England, writing back to his wife saying, “Well, you know we’ve had a little bit of trouble with the local youths, and they have desecrated the Dutch church, but the people in general are really nice. The only problem is that they cook with lard. So when you come over bring our butter churn.” That kind of little glimpse into everyday life is really what attracts and keeps us going.
[They wrap up]
Alien – Post-composition Project Zoom
PT I have a more personal question. What does the word alien really mean to you?
ZA I mean, as I said to Nandini yesterday, at first it felt more American or something because I’ve heard it on so many TV shows. It’s that thing of “not from here”, “you’re not from here”, but then also, “why are you here?” Not necessarily just in a racist way, but also like how people, like “aliens”, ended up in this place. It’s about otherness. On a personal level, thinking about the Peter Pope thing – about assimilation. That thing about how alien do you choose to remain? Do you change your name to Peter Pope? Do you learn English and Latin? How much do you want to stand out, I guess. The good and the bad of that, standing out in your beliefs, or standing out where another alien can find you. You know, having a beard or something – it’s about looking like an alien, so another alien can find you.
PT This process is so interesting because the words we connect pull up new stuff, and then take us in all these different directions that come from a deep place and then that takes us in all these different other directions, like science fiction or the personal relationships on the street or finding other people or finding a tribe of other aliens. And then we become less alien. I really appreciate that. So, Steve, what was that thing about the Ministry for Registering Aliens?
SS The Alien Registration Office. I don’t know if it’s still there, but an early Asian Dub Foundation photo was taken outside. I’m glad Zia is reminding us, because I’ve really got to try and find it. That was one of the first things I ever did when I joined the band; I suggested a photo outside that place. I think it is interesting, the word “alien”, having this sense of extreme otherness, the unknown, but also a need to bureaucratise, a need to register them. It’s just funny to have such a contradictory set of images with that word, because it’s kind of a technical bureaucratic term; it’s both negative and positive. As Zia was saying, the unknown can go to many places. Unknown can make you afraid, and it can also be exoticised. In the early days of ADF, we set ourselves so militantly against exoticisation: the exoticisation of the alien; the demonisation of the alien; the curiosity and ultimate rejection. Another thing came to mind – the first decent band I had was called the Atom Spies, and we were obsessed with McCarthyite America. Those B-movies, The Day the Earth Stood Still was a good one. Most of them were absolutely terrible, but most of the aliens in those 1950s American sci-fi films were in fact, you know, communists. The alien meant communist in popular culture. You know, I Married A Monster from Outer Space. The idea that the aliens were insidious. The aliens were actually among us, but we didn’t know what they were working on, had sinister aims, whether they were communists or whether they were from Planet Nobogov, or something.
PT I think it’s behind you. [Gestures to Steven’s Zoom]
SS It’s always behind me, yeah, there it is. That’s my secret communication portal.
[They wrap up]
Alien – Mid-composition Project WhatsApp
Exchange between Steven Savale and Sweety Kapoor.
[An image of a phone screen appears, showing a conversation between Steven and Sweety. The first message is an audio file, sent from Steven to Sweety. It begins to play on the page: an instrumental version of the final composition.]
Sweety Kapoor Steve… love this. Your call totally, would love to see the final piece extended to 5 min… Think there’s an interesting flow and movement in the music that deserves to be explored and breath a bit more… allowing us to sit in the music with pauses from Zia amazing delivery and words.
[Prayer hands emoji]
5 min or possibly longer if you please!
Just food for thought. xx
SS Yes, may extend it instrumentally.
SK Exactly what I meant
Although extended instrumental doesn’t necessarily have to be at the end
SS No, it would be in the mid section before the fed up orchestral bit
SK Love what the textures and sound world you’ve created. Feels like a journey through an unknown but know
Perfect. can feel and hear room between the words.
Traveller – Post-composition Project Zoom
SK So, Ben, have you had a chance to look through some of the process material that the artists have sent through?
Ben Crowe I can definitely see how things can begin to come together in an interactive project that starts to reveal how the collaboration has taken place through its form and structure. It’s really exciting, all the material that’s been provided so far; it’s looking really great.
SK I really love how they’ve captured the text communication as well, because so much of that is happening and it’s so reflective of how work does get done these days, by WhatsApp. I don’t know if you saw Sanah and Shama’s email communications. I love that, because it was them talking about the use of both the word “foreigner”, and “traveller”, and how they’re thinking about it. It’s incredible. We are going to end with three really, really strong pieces. It’s just been amazing to see each stage, and their discoveries about how a lot of the keywords are so intersected together. They’re making so many connections, and getting so much out of that. It’s really wonderful, actually. I feel like everyone should know about the TIDE project.
PT The research that has gone into it is so intricate, and it’s so collaborative. It’s really unusual because so many researchers have been working on it. What we thought we would talk about this morning is how you’re collaborating.
Sanah Ahsan Sure, Shama do you want to do this or should I?
Shama Rahman We can do it together! You probably heard from Sanah that we got together yesterday. Until then we were sending each other voice memos, rewrites, often writing from both of us, but also memos that are free plays on different words. Just to get our instincts going, to work out what suited us, I suppose, from the inside. And that was the creative process really.
PT And then you gravitated towards one more than others.
SA Yes, because at the beginning we were both unsure about what word spoke to us the most. We had a call, which was really rich and thoughtful and we came down to two words that really spoke to us, and we went away and we both did free writes and plays on those two words, which were “foreigner” and “traveller”. Then by the time we met up yesterday it was like “traveller” had embodied most of what we’d danced with before, and it just worked. But there are subtle threads of spirituality and spiritual thought that seep through the term. We kind of played around with beats and stuff before, and voice recordings, but when we actually came together in person and did it live, I guess, just an experimental play with it, that was really fun. We ended up getting two versions: a live acoustic version and one done with all the beats.
SR We might send you both. Sweety, you will have heard some of it from before. But what we tried to do was structure it a bit more. Sticking with the “traveller” ideas as an arc, we did quite a few live takes all the way through, just to get that energy of the interplay. Basically it’s layered sitar loops, rhythm, with Sanah’s voice over the top. It’s a nice mesh; it’s all nicely done. And then we did one with bare acoustic sitar and just voice. We thought you might like that. And we filmed everything on my laptop video. So you can probably see us kind of like chatting to each other, listening back to something like, yeah, all of it, really.
SA There’s probably quite a lot of video footage there; I don’t know if you want to watch the hours of it because we just left it on, filming.
PT Making words and music in this very compressed, solitary place, collaborating without seeing each other and then being released into this joint space, do you think that had an effect on the work?
SA Definitely. I think so, I don’t know what you think Shama, but it just happened so naturally. We’re obviously both very busy, and we literally just slotted in two hours to do it. And it happened very quickly and very easily, whereas I think with the back and forth over the last couple of weeks, it’s a bit difficult to really get a sense of where we’re going. We were both a bit unsure about which word and which bits were resonating with us and I think, just the barriers in terms of communication. And you know, timings and that. But the minute we got together in person it felt very easy; it felt like a natural fit.
PT I wanted to ask about the actual keywords, and what it’s like working with this very intricate historical research from an archive. Do you have any reflections on this work put together by a team of people from history, theology, and so on?
SR My initial response wasn’t musical; it was a poem, a spoken-word thing. I really like etymology, I’m a bit of a geek on that front – sorry, an academic, on that front! I just really enjoyed utilising the mode of poetry to actually help me link these different words that spoke to me. I didn’t gravitate towards one in particular, I thought, “I like ‘traveller’ and I like ‘foreigner’; I like ‘home’, and I like ‘friend/ally’.” For me, poetry has this way of linking things together without being too literal. I did read a bit of the background of “traveller”, which I found really lovely. And this idea of it coming from the French word, travailler. I really enjoyed reading about the perception of the “traveller” as somebody who was the knowledge-bringer, and was seen in a good light, in a sense of a perspective-opener, travelling from one place to another place. I really enjoyed that. Sanah was talking to me about “foreigner”. There were certain things that I thought I knew already, but she surprised me by telling me about the spiritual angle of it, I thought, “Wow, how could you be a spiritual foreigner?” These little surprises were interesting.
SA Definitely. I think there were certain parts of particular essays that spoke to me. If I’m honest, I definitely took the more academic approach of really reading the essays and getting stuck into the essays, which I found really interesting. And there were ones, initially, that grabbed me more, to be honest, like the “Mahometan” essay. I was mind blown by it. There were just lots of things that really struck me, especially around queerness in the Ottoman Empire. There were a couple of lines around that, and I had no idea, so that was really rich for me. I found the whole process rich with learning, and really enjoyed it. At times, I felt a little bit unsure about creative freedom and how close we needed to be to them, in terms of translating the content of the essays into a poetic form. And I think at times I felt a bit like, oh shit, does this need to be a literal replication or something a bit more creative? But looking at “traveller” really spoke to me and Shama, particularly around the idea of travailler meaning to work, the work it takes to travel, linking that in with the idea of knowledge-giving, linking that in with the spiritual foreigner, all of these things being interlinked and connected. Seeing the traveller as being on a journey with oneself, and not really having a home anywhere – it came very naturally. This idea of God being with the traveller and never being able to be cast away or separated from God, and how all of these things interweave, just came together very naturally and brought together of lots of different themes.
PT I think for me, when I engage with the research like that there’s something like a homecoming, a feeling of recognition when you realise this word that you think makes you strange in your own communities or in your own worlds or in your own body actually has a really long etymological history – you can kind of be at home in the word. I mean I think that’s a quite special feature of this project.
SR Also from a musical perspective, it’s quite interesting that there are a lot of changes or shifts in how these words are viewed now, in the sense that in England the word “traveller” is not viewed particularly positively. That’s not something that I was aware of when I first came here; it didn’t have that negative aspect for me. What I liked playing with musically was this almost imperceptible change and shift. You might have been looking at it from one angle but actually before you know it, you’ve travelled to another place. I was trying to play with that, in terms of the tropes of the music itself. Really playing with storytelling from a musical perspective, with those underlying tropes not just the words, say, but then also obviously the words themselves have a musical connotation.
Savage – Ms. Mohammed reflects on the process
I’ve done a few takes already, so this film really is part of the journey so far, if you want to know about the journey. The rest of it was a cakewalk. Talking about the journey – talking to camera, that’s really difficult.
So, the “savage” TIDE project. Me, Ms. Mohammed, and Sarathy Korwar, who I’m a massive fan of, so I was excited to be able to have the opportunity to do this. So, yeah, thank you, everyone at TIDE, but especially Sweety Kapoor who crowbarred me into this, bending the rules a little bit – but you know we’re both a bit punk rock.
“Savage” was the only word that stood out for me on the shortlist. And it was also on Sarathy’s shortlist so here we are. Also rhythmically, it just lends itself to so many outcomes and so many avenues. Lyrically, too. I’m not sure when I decided that it was going to be mostly in dialect; it turned out to be entirely in Trinidadian dialect. If you’re unfamiliar with Trinidadian dialect, it’s like broken English, broken French, broken Spanish, broken Hindi; everything’s in there. It’s really difficult to explain your culture, I don’t know if you’ve ever had to try – my inspiration for the delivery, lyrically, for the track, was the Midnight Robber, which is a traditional Carnival character, Trinidadian carnival (which is the best carnival). What is a Midnight Robber? Characters in carnival, traditional masks, it all gets really difficult to fit it into these explanations.
Hopefully, you get the whole picture when you get all these videos and photos and the track itself in one place. But, yeah. Getting back to the dialect. Using “savages” as a them, I knew I wanted to use words that were also kind of maybe slurs or derogatory, not in the best light, so I say wajang, I say jamette, I say zami, and these are very gendered, disparaging terms for women who are sexually promiscuous or badly behaved or gay – very relevant for me. I was really pleased I got a chance to do that.
As an expat, you know the language that I grew up speaking, the mother tongue, as we say, gets more and more important and it’s been seeping into my solo work anyway. It’s just so colourful and so many words that we have that English-English doesn’t really do justice. That was all I had in mind, the rest of it was completely improvised and, you know, I was just running on intuition and first impressions. Sarathy sent me the initial loop, and I think the first thing I wrote was the first guitar line that you hear. And so, you know, it’s just really effortless and I use that word a lot to describe the collaboration. He’s really easy and lovely and super talented, so it was all just really a pleasure. And I’m very lucky to be part of all of it. Hopefully you like the track when you hear it. Thank you.
Preti Taneja, internationally acclaimed novelistSteve Chandra Savale, guitarist/founding member of Asian Dub Foundation
Sarathy Korwar, tabla and drums/critically acclaimed jazz music artist/trained in Indian classical
Shama Rahman, sitarist, vocalist, music artist/PhD in neuroscience of musical creativity
Ms. Mohammed, Trinidadian-Indian music artist/guitarist/lyricist/singer/music producer
Sanah Ahsan, award-winning spoken word artists/published poet/psychologist
Zia Ahmed, award-winning spoken word artist/playwright/Young Poet Laureate for London
Ben Crowe, Palme d’Or short-film nominee, director ERA Films
Sweety Kapoor, curator/creative producer
Nandini Das, professor of early modern literature
TIDE project (tideproject.uk), the Humanities Cultural Programme, University of Oxford
Origianl article: TANK Magazine