Updated: Oct 23, 2018
Helen Anahita Wilson started playing piano at the age of 3. Studying at Guildhall in London and the University of Sussex led to a successful career as a classical pianist. But personal fulfillment eluded her until she embarked on her own solo project. The release of her debut album BHOOMA on October 26th sees an exciting return to her first love; jazz. Her musical journey has taken her through India and her performance is a truly unique, multi-sensory experience.
You’re launching BHOOMA at The Verdict, what’s the significance of that and what does this moment represent?
I’m in my adopted hometown which is really special, I wanted to launch it here rather than in London. It’s important it’s in a jazz club because I’m most at home in a jazz club. I remember when I was 12 years old, the first time I went to Ronnie Scott’s. Ronnie Scott had tried to buy my parents’ house, so I got to go and I got to play piano with Freddie Cole, Nat King Cole’s brother. Since then, that’s been my idea of heaven. So here we are with my first very own project, in my home town jazz club.
A couple of years ago I decided to shake my life up and focus only on what truly makes me happy. I'd had success working as a freelance contemporary classical pianist playing in wonderful venues around the UK and Europe but it wasn't making me content. Since I was a kid I always really wanted to play jazz and was also interested in music from around the world. So this is a kind of jumping off point for a new phase in my, life. As well as a collection of my own Asian and jazz-inspired works, it includes a new commission from American composer Stephen Montague, plus two pieces by maverick composer/teacher Peter Feuchtwanger.
It’s a big moment for me personally, I’ve spent much of my career playing other people’s music and this is my first collection which is all mine. It draws from my past as a classical musician and composer, and then I turned a corner where I’m now only working with Asian, Persian, and Indian music and going back to my very first love, jazz. So we’ve got this big melting, intercultural pot and this will be its very first outing.
How did Persian, Asian and Indian influences come into your life and work?
I first encountered Indian classical music about five years ago. Just by chance I caught a performance by the singer Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil at the Darbar festival on SkyArts one Friday afternoon. I was utterly spellbound by it - I had never seen or heard such a fascinating and thrilling performance. From there I started exploring Indian classical music and I studied at SOAS University of London gaining a Masters degree in South Asian performance. My interest in Persian music comes from some close Iranian friends of mine who I have performed with, and who have been generous in sharing their music with me. I just adore India and have travelled there several times now. Earlier this year I played solo gigs in Mumbai and Delhi, and I also travelled through Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I love Indian classical music and sacred temple music and I'm currently doing a PhD focusing on classical performance in Trivandrum, Kerala. I'll be heading back to India in January 2019.
Why have you entitled the album “BHOOMA”?
I was watching an amazing film about Indian spiritual paths and leaders and there was a guru who kept using the BHOOMA and he described it as meaning “limitless.” It's related to the Hindu goddess Bhumi (or Bhuma-devi) who represents Mother Earth. So, for me, I've taken the word personally to represent limitless, female creativity.
You’re a synesthetic musician, what does this mean for your music and how you perform?
As a synesthetic musician, my senses are blended so I don't just hear sound, I see it in shapes and in colours and I feel it in different parts of my body. I always try and share, as much as I possibly can, this experience with the audience. So particularly in terms of colours, lights, and smells. I’m very interested in resonance so much of my music has long, long, sustained sound clouds. So even if you’re not synesthetic, you’ll feel that in different parts of your body, you’ll vibrate from head to toe. I try and create these large, warm, multi-sensory experiences that bring in as much of my personal music experience as I possibly can, and I translate that outwards. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from my travels and my work in India and how music is presented there. I think about how musical space works and how important it is to have candles, flowers, visuals. I look at the environment on the stage space and put a lot of thought, care and consideration into it.
What do you hope to evoke in your audience through your performance?
I hope to be able to offer some glimpse of transcendence through it. There’s a journey you’re going to go on, when you listen to this album, which I hope is all encompassing and you surrender to it. It can be quite other-worldly. I want it to be a transcendent experience but for all of us to be in it together, connected with the sound in a special place.
You can see Helen Anahita Wilson album launch performance at The Verdict on Saturday 27th October. £12/£8 https://www.wegottickets.com/event/447551 BHOOMA is released on Golden Girl Records on 26th October.