Nitin Sawhney review – witty Brexit politics with a touch of Queen

Barbican, London
The groundbreaking musician unveiled a post-referendum oratorio featuring Andy Serkis as Theresa May, and unleashed a new Bohemian Rhapsody

As Nitin Sawhney said afterwards, it is “weird” that an issue as crucial as Brexit has not inspired more songs. The musician and composer’s own contribution to the topic may have been patchy, but it was certainly original, involving a choir and orchestra and performed as part of a varied set.

This free concert started with a lengthy reminder of Sawhney’s role in shaking up the British music scene by mixing soul and blues with Indian and Spanish influences. Joined by violin and tabla players and three soulful female singers, he played acoustic guitar to revive songs that included the stomping Dead Man and the passionate flamenco-influenced Noches En Vela. Then followed an onstage interview, which allowed him to explain his ideal of a multicultural Britain and the “cathartic” response to Brexit in his new music. Now the National Youth Orchestra came on for epic versions of Breathing Light and then Homelands. And finally the London Contemporary Voices choir joined in for Sawhney’s first oratorio, Brexit: A Rational Anthem for a National Tantrum.

Andy Serkis as Theresa May at the Barbican.
Still no deal? Andy Serkis as Theresa May at the Barbican. Photograph: Camilla Greenwell/Barbican

Musically, this was a pleasant if surprisingly unemotional work in three parts, the least successful involving snatches of voices (all sounding like remainers) awkwardly added in. Politically, it was more interesting, with thoughtful and witty lyrics that started as a leavers’ anthem and ended as a cry of despair. But it would have been impossible to understand them if song sheets hadn’t been handed out. For the encore, there was a very different display of Sawhney’s writing, a very funny reworking of Bohemian Rhapsody as a Brexit commentary, performed by Andy Serkis dressed as Theresa May. Thankfully, the lyrics could be heard this time.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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