Nitin Sawhney

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Nitin Sawhney
Nitin Sawhney 2.jpg
Nitin Sawhney in Lisbon, 24 February 2009
Background information
Born 1964 (age 52–53)
London, England
Origin Rochester, Kent, England
Genres Electronica, nu jazz, drum and bass, trip hop, downtempo, R&B
Occupation(s) Producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, dj, orchestral composer

Nitin Sawhney (born 1964) is a British Indian musician, producer and composer. His work combines Asian and other worldwide influences with elements of jazz and electronica and often explores themes such as multiculturalism, politics, and spirituality. Sawhney is also active in the promotion of arts and cultural matters, and is a patron of numerous film festivals, venues, and educational institutions.

Early years[edit]

Nitin Sawhney was raised in Rochester, Kent, England, by Punjabi immigrant parents. As a child he studied piano, classical and flamenco guitar, sitar and tabla.

Subsequently, he studied law at Liverpool University for a short time.[1]

It was during this period that Sawhney met up with a school friend, acid-jazz keyboard-player James Taylor. Sawhney then toured as part of The James Taylor Quartet.[2] This experience led to him forming his own band, The Jazztones. He also joined forces with tabla player and DJ/producer Talvin Singh to form the Tihai Trio.[3]

After dropping out of university, Sawhney trained as an accountant until leaving his job as a financial controller of a hotel to pursue his promising career in music. Sawhney moved to London, where he met up with old university friend Sanjeev Bhaskar; together they created the comedy team The Secret Asians. The pair were given a show on BBC Radio, which eventually grew into the award-winning BBC TV sketch show Goodness Gracious Me.[4] Refocusing on music, Sawhney's solo career began in 1993, when he released his debut album, Spirit Dance on his own label.[5]


Sawhney has scored for and performed with orchestras, and collaborated with and written for the likes of Paul McCartney, Sting, The London Symphony Orchestra, A.R. Rahman, Brian Eno, Sinead O’Connor, Jacob Golden, Anoushka Shankar, Jeff Beck, Shakira, Will Young, Joss Stone, Taio Cruz, Ellie Goulding, Horace Andy, Cirque Du Soleil, Akram Khan, Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair, Nelson Mandela and John Hurt. Performing extensively around the world, he has achieved an international reputation across every possible creative medium.

Often appearing as Artist in Residence, Curator or Musical Director at international festivals, Sawhney works for musical education, having acted as patron of the British Government’s Access-to-music programme, the East London Film festival and, currently, Artist as well as acting as a judge for The Ivor Novello Awards, BAFTA, and the PRS foundation. He is a recipient of 7 honorary doctorates from British universities, is a fellow of LIPA and the Southbank University, an Associate of Sadler’s Wells, sits on the board for London’s Somerset House and in 2007 turned down an OBE for ethical reasons.

Since 2014, the publishing interest of Nitin Sawhney’s catalog has been represented by Reservoir Media Management.[6]

Solo career[edit]

Sawhney has released 10 studio albums. He has received 17 major national awards for his album work.

In 1999 Sawhney released his fourth breakthrough Gold selling album, Beyond Skin, on London’s Outcaste Records, which took a prestigious Technics Mercury Music Prize nomination and won Sawhney the coveted South Bank Show Award. After a subsequent signing to Richard Branson’s V2 Records, Sawhney released the millennial epic and Silver certified Prophesy in 2001, winning a MOBO Award as well as a BBC Radio 3 Music Award. Sawhney’s seventh album, Philtre, was released in May 2005, taking yet another BBC Radio 3 Award and in 2008, his eighth album, London Undersound, released on Cooking Vinyl, featured artwork by Antony Gormley and performances from Paul McCartney, Anoushka Shankar, Imogen Heap and Natty, amongst many others.

Sawhney’s 2011 studio work, Last Days of Meaning, previewed at the Royal Albert Hall in May 2011, centres on a stunning performance from legendary actor, John Hurt, and follows the epic, metaphorical, Dickensian journey of a lonely and intransigent man. His 2013 box-set release ‘ONE ZERO’ was recorded live-to-vinyl as a celebration of ten albums releases. Nitin’s tenth studio album, Dystopian Dream, was released in November 2015.

He produced Anoushka Shankar’s Grammy nominated album “Traces of You” featuring Norah Jones, recently produced up and coming artist Nicki Wells’ debut album and has recently produced the tenth album of internationally renowned concert pianist Helene Grimaud called “Water”.


To date, Sawhney has scored over fifty films as well as a plethora of international TV programmes, ads and cinema trailers. Signed to prestigious LA based agency, First Artist Management, he has scored everything from dark, high-tension drama to light hearted animatronics.

In recent years Sawhney has been commissioned to write the scores for a number of different projects. His music for Channel 4's Second Generation saw him nominated for the Ivor Novello Award for Film and TV Composition.[7] He has also scored ads for the likes of Nike and Sephora.[8] In 2006, Sawhney composed a new symphony to accompany Franz Osten's 1929 silent film, A Throw of Dice, which premiered with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, London.[9] More recent works include scores for Oscar-nominated director Mira Nair's adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's, The Namesake,[10] as well as Natural Fantasia[11] and Human Planet for the BBC.

This work for film and television has led to recognition within the classical world as well. In 2001, Sawhney composed "Neural Circuits" for the Britten Sinfonia, a collaboration that has continued.[12] In 2002, he worked with Akram Khan and Anish Kapoor, scoring the music to Khan's choreographed work Kaash, which toured worldwide between 2002–2003.[13] In 2004, Sawhney was commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to compose a new piece for their Harmony Project.[14] His previous scores also include the new adaptation of Mahabharata by the Olivier Award- winning writer Stephen Clark,[15] Simon McBurney's A Disappearing Number for Complicite,[16] and first-time theatrical director Jonathan Holmes' Fallujah.[17] Sawhney has continued to work with Akram Khan on Bahok, Vertical Road and more recently iTMOi (in the mind of Igor).

Sawhney produced the music for the Ninja Theory video games Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (both starring Andy Serkis).

Sawhney again worked with the London Symphony Orchestra for the Network/BFI re-master of Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger,[18] performed live at The Barbican Centre on 21 July 2012.[19] Sawhney also scored Deepa Mehta's adaptation of Salman Rushdie's book Midnight's Children,[20] released October 2012 (US). More recently Sawhney has scored Vara:A Blessing and Japan in a Day.

Sawhney recently scored a 5 episode series for the BBC's Natural History Department called Wonders of the Monsoon which had its debut airing with the BBC in 2014. With other broadcasters and with its DVD release it has been re-titled Lands of the Monsoon. The series earned Sawhney a Royal Television Society award for best composer in February 2015. Sawhney is currently scoring Andy Serkis’ directorial debut for Warner Bros, Jungle Book, due for release in 2018.

Theatre and dance[edit]

Sawhney’s substantial theatre/dance credits include the scores for Complicite’s Olivier Award-winning A Disappearing Number and Akram Khan’s also Olivier Award-winning Zero Degrees for which Nitin received a New York Performance and Dance Award for best score. After scoring Bahok for the Royal Ballet of China, Sawhney’s composition for Khan’s Vertical Road received a best new work Award in Melbourne. Sawhney recently worked again with Belgian Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on a production based on the life of Manga creator, Tezuka and has recently worked with Akram Khan for iTMOi (in the mind of Igor) as part of the centenary Rites of Spring celebrations at Sadler’s Wells.

Acting, writing, directing, commentating[edit]

Sawhney’s acting credits include the Award winning Radio and BBC TV series, Goodness Gracious Me, for which he received a Sony award as performer and writer, Meera Syal’s Radio 4 mini-series Masala FM and Confluence with Akram Khan. As a fledgling theatrical director his work to date includes Confluence for Sadler’s Wells and directing/ writing workshops at London’s National Theatre for his play, Trust. He has also written articles for UK broadsheets and appeared as a commentator on BBC’s Newsnight Review, Newsnight and Hard Talk.

Nitin Sawhney Spins the Globe is Sawhney’s BBC R2 show. Its fourth series was broadcast in March 2015.

Collaborations and remixes[edit]

Sawhney has remixed a wide variety of artists over the years, including Sting, Natacha Atlas, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Jeff Beck, Julian Lloyd Webber, Tina Grace and Paul McCartney (for McCartney's The Fireman project). He also collaborated with Paul McCartney on a song called "My Soul", which appeared on Sawhney's London Undersound album and on various Robert Miles projects such as Miles Gurtu and Organik as well as with American singer-songwriter Jacob Golden. His own work has been remixed by 4hero, Talvin Singh, MJ Cole and Quantic. He produced several songs on Cheb Mami's album Dellali. He co-produced the second album from songwriter Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly entitled Searching for the Hows and Whys released through Atlantic Records. During 2006–2007, Nitin Sawhney wrote the music for Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's dance piece "Zero Degrees"; Antony Gormley created the set.

More recently Sawhney now has his own BBC Radio 2 series: 'Nitin Sawhney Spins the Globe,' which has been commissioned for three series. The series has seen him collaborate with the likes of Joss Stone, Bassekou Koyate, One Eskimo, Diana Yukawa and David Arnold. Sawhney has also produced and co-written Anoushka Shankar's latest album – Traces of You which features Norah Jones. He is also currently co-producing the latest album by the semi-classical all female string quartet Bond (band)


Sawhney is an acclaimed flamenco guitarist and classical/jazz pianist. His musical ability to transcend cultural barriers has gained him much recognition from the classical and pop communities, leading to his unique claim to broadcasting and selling out as artist in his own right for both the BBC Traditional and Electric Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Roundhouse respectively. His band has toured the world for decades and Sawhney has performed and scored in recent years with international orchestras to silent films, most notably Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lodger”, Franz Osten’s A Throw of Dice and Naruse’s Yogoto No Yume all for the London Symphony Orchestra.

Nitin has conducted both the London Symphony Orchestra and the Singapore Festival Orchestra and has recently written his first choral piece for London Contemporary Voices Choir. He most recently performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall in September 2014 where he showcased tracks from his forthcoming tenth studio album, Dystopian Dream. Sawhney also musically directed a star-studded tribute to the legendary rock musician Jack Bruce at London’s Roundhouse in October 2015.

Sawhney, given his classical background, is a surprisingly experienced and established DJ, spinning everything from Afro-beat and Dubstep to Asian breakbeat and drum ‘n’ bass. Cutting his Dj-ing teeth at London’s tastemaking Fabric nightclub, Sawhney has Dj-ed at the Big Chill, Womad, Womadelaide and across the world at numerous major festivals. Clubland has seen three international DJ album releases by Sawhney; All Mixed Up – The definitive remix collection; Fabriclive 15 and In the Mind of… Nitin Sawhney.





  • BBC Asia Award for Music for Prophesy
  • MOBO Award for Prophesy
  • Boundary Crossing Award, BBC Radio 3 Music Awards for Prophesy


  • Media Personality of the Year nomination, RIMA Awards
  • EMMA Award for Prophesy
  • Muso Award for Prophesy




  • Boundary Crossing Award, BBC Radio 3 Music Awards for Philtre


  • Honorary Graduate Degree from South Bank University, London
  • Laurence Olivier Award in Contemporary Dance (Zero Degrees – scored for Akram Khan)







Additional information[edit]

Much of Sawhney's attention remains focused on the areas of education and community building, accepting the role of Artist in Residence for no less than five separate performing arts organisations across Great Britain and Asia. Sawhney joined Sir George Martin as a patron of the national music college Access to Music,[23] and he is also patron of the Raindance East Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards.[24] Sawhney appears regularly as an arts and current affairs commentator on topical discussion and news programs such as the BBC's Newsnight, Newsnight Review, and HARDtalk. He has also written for UK national broadsheet newspapers: The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, and The Observer.



  • Spirit Dance (1994) World Circuit
  • Migration (1995) Outcaste Records
  • Displacing the Priest (1996) Outcaste Records
  • Beyond Skin (1999) Outcaste Records/Zomba publishing
  • Prophesy (2001) V2/BMG/Zomba publishing
  • Human (2003) V2/Imagem publishing
  • Philtre (2005) V2/Imagem publishing
  • London Undersound (2008) Cooking Vinyl/Imagem publishing
  • Last Days of Meaning (2011)/Universal publishing
  • OneZero (2013) Cherry Red Records/Universal publishing
  • Dystopian Dream (2015) Positiv-ID


  • Introducing Nitin Sawhney (1999) Outcaste
  • FabricLive.15 (2004) Fabric
  • All Mixed Up (2004) V2
  • In the Mind of... (2007) District 6



  • Flight (Alex Pillai / Hindi Pictures for BBC TV)





  • Anita & Me (Metin Husseyin / Paul Raphael)
  • Bodily Harm (Joe Wright / Catherine Wearing / Channel 4 TV)
  • Pure (Gilles MacKinnon / Howard Burch)













  1. ^ Jaggi, Maya (1 April 2006). "No barriers". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  2. ^ "How we met: James Taylor & Nitin Sawhney". The Independent. London. 13 May 2007. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "Nitin Sawney". The Mighty Organ. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  4. ^ BBC – Comedy – Shows A-Z Index
  5. ^ :::Outcaste Records::: Archived 5 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "The Ivor Novello Awards – All the nominations for 2003". 27 May 2004. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  8. ^ "Awards for World Music 2006 – Nitin Sawhney". BBC. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  9. ^ "A Throw of Dice". Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "Rounder Records – Nitin Sawhney – The Namesake Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Album Detail". 6 April 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  11. ^ COOL Music Limited – Composers – Nitin Sawhney Archived 27 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ "News & reviews". Britten Sinfonia. 11 August 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  13. ^ "National Arts Centre – Centre national des Arts". Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  14. ^ "The CBSO gets a taste for Bollywood – City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra". Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  15. ^ "Mahabharata - Sadler's Wells - April 2007". Sadler's Wells. Archived from the original on 27 February 2007. 
  16. ^ Productions – Complicite Archived 5 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "BBC News – Composers to create Alfred Hitchcock silent film scores". 4 July 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  19. ^ "The Genius of Hitchcock: The Lodger". Barbican. 21 July 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  20. ^ "Art without boundaries Nitin Sawhney". 2 November 2010. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  21. ^ Nazhat (8 March 2008). "The UK Asian Music Awards 2008". Retrieved 24 August 2010. 
  22. ^ "2009 UK AMA Award Winners - on". 6 March 2009. Retrieved 24 August 2010. 
  23. ^ "Patrons". Access to Music. Retrieved 4 November 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  24. ^ – Films. Raindance East Film Festival, 21 – 27 March 2003
  25. ^ O'Mahony, John. "Operas about wags? Why not, says the Royal Opera House". The Guardian, 10 June 2010

External links[edit]