Musician Nitin Sawhney said he changed his mind about accepting an honour because he wanted to pay tribute to his parents’ “immigrant experience”.
Sawhney was born in London to Indian parents and his work explores themes including multiculturalism and politics.
He has been critically lauded, being honoured with the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement award in 2017 and collaborating with artists such as Sir Paul McCartney.
Sawhney turned down an OBE (Order Of The British Empire) in 2007, citing the war in Iraq as well as not being able to handle “the idea of the word ’empire’ after my name”.
However, his stance has softened and during an appearance on Desert Island Discs, Sawhney said his father’s death in 2013 was a factor in his accepting a CBE for services to music in the 2019 New Year’s Honours.
Sawhney explained his father had asked him to accept the OBE for his birthday, but he refused. However, he then received the offer of a CBE on what would have been his father’s birthday last year.
Sawhney said: “I’m into signs so I kind of thought, ‘OK, I’m going to take it because it feels like I should.
“I took it also because of the time we’re in. I wanted to acknowledge my mum and dad’s immigrant experience. And that’s what my dad said to me, ‘we worked really hard and we came here to give you a better life’.
“And that OBE at the time would have symbolised that.”
However, Sawhney, whose desert island discs include Ennio Morricone’s A Fistful Of Dollars theme from the hit Western film and Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, said he still has an issue with the word ’empire’.
During an appearance on the long-running BBC Radio 4 programme, Sawhney told host Lauren Laverne about the racist bullying he experienced while going to school in Rochester, Kent, in the 1970s.
He said: “I don’t think it was all bleak, I had some really good friends there. But I had a bad experience in that it was more about the time.
“We had the National Front leafleting every day outside the school gates.
“Being followed home by a guy in a van with a loud hailer shouting racist abuse at me was pretty crazy as well.”
Sawhney, who studied law at Liverpool University before pursuing a career in music, said he was attacked physically and verbally on an almost daily basis as a child.
He added: “There was part of me that has a bit of loathing for that person. I actually felt that that person was a bit weak and pathetic.
“It’s odd, isn’t it, that that kind of mentality stays with you that you kind of feel a sense of shame about abuse of all kinds and trying to get past that is a real journey.
“In some ways that negativity, that feeling of shame, actually drove quite a lot of my creativity at the time. I wanted to not feel that way.”
The full interview will be broadcast on Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 at 11.15am on Sunday.
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