Nitin Sawhney's Beyond Skin works on at least two levels. First, it's a plea against racism and war, relating, as Sawhney writes in the liner notes, that one's identity is defined only by oneself – that identity is "beyond skin." Second, the music is an extremely accomplished blend of classical, drum'n'bass, jazz, hip-hop, and Indian elements. The album's political statements are seen most clearly in the samples imbedded in the beginning and ending of most tracks. Dealing with nuclear testing and identity, the samples are effective in setting the tone for the songs. The music is quite lush, featuring among other instruments, tablas, pianos, and cellos to equally beautiful effect. The production brings a crystal-clear polish to nearly every element in the mix, whether it's the passionate, intense vocals of the Rizwan Qawwali Group on "Homelands" or the stunning, impossibly gorgeous voice of Swati Natekar on "Nadia." The entire album is bathed in eclectic touches which never fail to maintain a poetic, accessible sense of charm and wonder. Rarely has electronic music been crafted with as much substance and style as it has on Beyond Skin. Sawhney travels back and forth between genres quite effortlessly. The album was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
With Beyond Skin, Nitin Sawhney set a high bar for global fusion music. Now he's raised it with Prophesy, taking advantage of a larger budget to bring in Indian strings, a South African choir, a Chicago cabbie, soul singer Terry Callier, and Nelson Mandela, among many other things. But what could have been an awkward grab bag of sound comes together under Sawhney's sure hands and inspired songwriting. He makes the unusual work. On "Sunset," for instance, flamenco and rai meet Brazil, and the vocals of Cheb Mami and Nina Miranda work to glorious effect. Trilok Gurtu contributes some stunning kannakol (vocal percussion) to "Breathing Light," while Natacha Atlas beguiles with her singing on "Acquired Dreams." But this is more than a collection of great tunes–it's an album that ponders the way our world and civilization is developing, asking questions and challenging assumptions while still delivering some sumptuous grooves and melodies.