Though intrinsic to her lush compositions, the mindfulness of Sister Sai’s songwriting is often buried within the atmospheric nature of the tracks. The technical prowess and emotional grace of her songs may be the most immediate aspects of Saira Raza’s art, but these individual facets serve a deeper purpose. They guide the listener alongside Raza on a journey through shifting cultures and an ever-blossoming identity.
This holistic intentionality springs from every ecstatic jangle and ethereal line of her new single “Cham Cham.” The song pulses with tradition and community drawn from the very instrument used as the percussive backbone of the track: ankle bells. Known as ghungroo in Hindi/Urdu, these instruments possess a unique sound which Raza chose as the title for the song. She explains: “At the time I was writing this song, I was trying to process and release these intense feelings of self-doubt. I kept thinking about the ghungroo and how by wearing them, a person is calling attention to themselves and has to be unapologetic and vulnerable.” She wrote the track at Red Bull Music Academy Bass Camp at Bonnaroo in 2016, but though the music came easily, the lyrics for the track weren’t clear until she listened to a lecture about music, truth, and consciousness by Ricky Washington (Kamasi Washington’s father).
While more traditional than most of Sister Sai’s recent work, “Cham Cham” fits well with the meditative style she pursued on 2016’s Inertia. Raza’s music may be serene, but it incites as much as it centers, especially in the face of the Trump administration. Raza explains, “In the face of intimidation, we should wear our proverbial ghungroo proudly, keep our feet moving and keep making noise… cham cham!”
“Cham Cham” will most likely appear on a currently untitled album Raza is planning for late 2017. In the meantime, she will release Bhadda Saya later this month with frequent collaborator 10th Letter.
Sister Sai will perform on Thursday, March 2 in support of Khruangbin and the Shacks at Aisle 5. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $15. All ages.