Nitin Sawhney, Brighton Dome, Brighton

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The Independent Culture

The composer, multi-instrumentalist and erstwhile comic Nitin Sawhney has crammed more into his 39 years than most people could manage in several lifetimes. A former law and accountancy student, he formed the comedy duo Secret Asians in the Eighties with his student friend Sanjeev Bhaskar, which laid the groundwork for the successful radio and TV series Goodness Gracious Me.

Now, of course, Sawhney is the toast of the British music scene. In the past decade, he has worked with the artist Anish Kapoor, taken tea with Paul McCartney and become chums with Nelson Mandela. He is also one of the most instinctively - and unselfconsciously - eclectic musicians around, employing a rich musical palette of flamenco, jazz, hip hop, soul and traditional Indian music.

For Sawhney, it has always been about subverting stereotypes and marrying opposing traditions. With almost mathematical precision - a vestige of his student days, perhaps - he balances the sounds of different eras and cultures. In his album Human, released next week, he expands his magpie instincts further, recording with Matt Hales of Aqualung, Kevin Mark Trail of The Streets, the Brazilian vocalist Reena Bhardwaj and the Anglo-Arabic singer Natacha Atlas.

It's only natural that Sawhney arrives at the Brighton Dome with a diverse cast of collaborators, among them the Indian classical singer Davinder Singh, a serenely biblical figure dressed in long robes; the mercurial vocalist Sharon Duncan; and Tina Grace, who is a long-term singer with Sawhney. Tonight's songs pretty much span the composer's musical career. Grace brings ethereal beauty to "Letting Go", while "The Immigrant", a track containing the voice of Sawhney's father explaining how he was inspired to move to England by tales of gold-paved streets, is intensely moving.

In a thrilling version of "The Conference", Sawhney pits his own vocal abilities against those of Singh and the tabla-player Aref Durvesh. A new song, "Heer", all swirling vocals and dense atmospherics, heralds the appearance of Bhardwaj, while "Rainfall" showcases the Stevie Wonder-like singing talents of Taio, best known for his work in Wookie and Shy FX.

The juxtapositions continue in the visual images displayed on a large suspended screen, from close-ups of Nelson Mandela and George Bush to pictures of exotic sunsets and tranquil mountain tops.

Ever the genial host, Sawhney elects to sit to the side of the stage, allowing the succession of vocalists to take the spotlight and rarely drawing attention to himself. It's only during the closing track, "Prophesy", that Sawhney moves to the centre. As he explains, it's a spiritual track that brings together the sounds of the tabla, acoustic guitar and Singh's voluminous chanting. As with most of Sawhney's songs, it's a track in which East and West go hand in hand and transcend all cultural barriers. The message couldn't be plainer.

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