Sheila Chandra’s New Voice

Sheila Chandra Can't Sing, But She Can Unclutter Your Life.

Have you wondered whatever happened to Sheila Chandra? From 1982 to 1996 her voice was ubiquitous on Echoes and elsewhere. We first heard her with the group Monsoon, whose hit song, “Ever So Lonely” still remains a powerful slice of Indian-Pop. Then she made a string of increasingly experimental solo albums, using her voice as an instrument. Her album, Quiet remains a masterpiece of multi-tracked vocalese. Chandra came to her greatest renown and artistic achievement with a string of albums on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label, beginning with Weaving My Ancestors Voices. Chandra merged global traditions from India to Ireland into intoxicating, layered vocal songs that seemed to come from deep in your own subconscious.

Sadly, Sheila had throat problems after a 1992 operation and by 2010 she had stopped singing altogether and for a longtime, she wasn’t even speaking. When I last saw her socially, she was hand-writing out her answers to my questions. It is described on her website like this:

Developed vocal stamina issues after an emergency operation in 1992 to save her sight as a clumsy intubation during the procedure scarred her vocal chords. Then developed Burning Mouth Syndrome in 2009 for which there is no known cause or cure. The result of these two conditions together is pain that lasts for hours or days if she speaks or sings.

Communicates largely by email, instant messenger, text and handwritten notes, although she has developed RSI from relying on written communication so heavily. Despite the pain, she does speak sometimes to ensure that her vocal mechanism does not completely atrophy. Describes the condition as being “like having a really bad PAYG mobile with hardly any credit on it” and plans the amount of time she talks around the amount of pain she thinks she can bear that day/week. On the upside, she can now write notes really, really fast.

But Sheila Chandra’s brilliant mind has turned to other endeavors. She’s become something of a guru of the Neatness Movement and has written two well-received books, Banish Clutter Forever – How the Toothbrush Principle Will Change Your Life, published in 2010 and Organizing for Creative People: How to Channel the Chaos of Creativity into Career Success in 2017.

You can hear Sheila talking, and I mean actually talking, about her work in a recent podcast of Penguin Living.


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