Eastern Soul

Behind the music: Shammi Pithia

You may have heard of London-based composer and musician Shammi Pithia – his track Pacifist is on our June Podcast and he has been making waves with his new album Audio Descriptive.

I was intrigued by his ambitious and complex sound and in May I had a chance to get to know more about him as we exchanged emails. Here’s three things I took away from the music and my experience of the man.

He’s not making music to anyone else’s pattern

Much of the music that I listen to is genre-specific – written to fit certain rules. In contrast, Shammi’s work strikes me as very un-self-consciously eclectic. When I asked Shammi about the narratives that drive his music, he explained that his albums

“play host to many different narratives and stories that are not always related.”

He went on to explain:

“I like to make music that I like to listen to. I also like to make music that interests me academically. And often, I like to make music for the simple pleasure of making music. Audio Descriptive and Cinema for the Ears are both collections of songs that may fit well into these areas.

I think that my use of instrumentation is influenced a lot by film music. I really love cinema and love writing music to images. Some of the songs on Audio Descriptive are directly written in this style. For example, the opening song ‘Pacifist’ has its roots largely set in film music. I created a fully formed war scene in my head, complete with a prelude, fight and aftermath and then took this as a solid base for music composition.”

If you appreciate sound production you’ll find plenty to interest you on Audio Descriptive

Shammi’s tracks are notable for their production – they really jump out of the speakers. I asked him about whether this was intentional and it was clear from his answer that the mixing was a very important part of the process to him:

“Firstly I’d like to say Thank You! I worked very hard in mixing this album and at giving each instrument the crispness and clarity I felt it deserved. I’m really happy to see that you can hear it!”

He went on to explain how he mixed each track individually according to its theme:

“ For example, I tried to create a lush and sweet sounding mix on the songs that were composed with types of romantic feelings in mind – Sweet Nothings, Ajnabee Anjani and Reveire are good examples of this.

On the other hand, for the songs that were more raw such as Forthcoming, I tried to dirty up the mix a little so everything snapped. I think this emphasizes the story and emotion further. In this context, raw is more.”

He also talked about the importance of overall sonic quality –

“If a sound is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing then there’s not much real point of it being there. For this reason I tried to give each sound its place, so to achieve the original and intended purpose for that song.”

A musical course that’s not set in stone

I’m sure that Shammi’s latest work will win him many fans; but I suspect that his next work will be completely different. It seems to me that Shammi is by nature an explorer; he has his influences (Talvin Singh and especially Nitin Sawhney among them) but also the will and ability to transcend them.

Certainly there’s one particular phrase in Shammi’s emails to me that gave me a clearer picture of him:

“Much of my influence has come outside of music, through stories and philosophy.”

These are the words of an artist who is prepared to run with ideas and concepts, and perhaps this is at the heart of Shammi’s eclecticism.

As far as delving into his personal philosophy goes, well, I think that’s all in the music – but I did find an insight into Shammi’s “worldview” when I asked him if the theme of Resistance meant anything to him:

“There are certainly things I ‘resist’, snobbery in music for one, inequality in education another. There are also things I resist in my personal life, or probably more accurately put, ‘things I choose not to do’.

As for my music, there maybe some shades of resistance. In fact, one of my latest pieces called ‘The Seeker’ reflects struggles of life. Everyone, including me, seems to be constantly searching for something, big or small. During this search there are many obstacles that we face. This song is about those obstacles and about overcoming them, I suppose in a way this touches upon resistance.”

• Now listen to the track Pacifist on the June podcast