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I was banned from the music room for six years. I later found out the teacher was in the National Front

When I think back to school, I feel detached from it. It's odd, because I'm really into the idea of education. I do quite a few workshops with children and it's important for adults to be there as guides and bring out the best in them rather than impose their personalities and ways of looking at things. When I was at school I felt imposed upon and didn't feel I was ever free to express who I was. I don't blame anyone, I just feel frustrated about my experience.

I went to Sir Joseph Williamson's mathematical school in Rochester. It was an academic school and lots of people went on to Oxford and Cambridge. I enjoyed my experience in lots of ways, but it was a racist area and I did get attacked a lot. There were a couple of Asian kids in the school but I was the only one in my peer group.

I was grade 8 on the piano when I was very young. I was fanatical. When I got home from school I would shut the door to my room and practise about eight hours a day from the age of about five to about 16. I remember trying to talk to my music teacher about jazz, flamenco, and even pop bands, and he just said: "That's not really music." He thought there was western classical music and that was all. One day I was playing an Indian classical raag on the piano and this music teacher walked in and said: "Where's your sheet music? Get out!" I was banned from the music room for six years. It was a race thing, I later found out he was a member of the National Front.

I loved history, yet, at the same time, it gave me a complex because I wondered, 'where's my part in this?' It was a Euro-centric syllabus. I lived in a divided world because when I was at home it was all about understanding Hinduism and the traditional values my mum and dad had. Going into school, that got chucked out of the window.

Recently, I went back to the school to do a documentary for the BBC. I enjoyed meeting some of the teachers again and they seemed genuinely pleased to see me. It was surreal because there were things I wanted to say but couldn't because the cameras were following me. I didn't feel bitter. I wanted to ask them how they dealt with those things now.

I went to university to do law but dropped out after a couple of years. I did another course in Hertford, which was where I met Sanjeev Bhaskar; I was doing accountancy and he was doing business studies. We got together and formed a comedy duo.

I worked for the Asian music circuit for a while as an accountant; I'd be doing their books and then be jamming with them. I've been a full-time musician for about 15 years. Musically, my biggest inspiration is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (a Pakistani singer) because he traversed all barriers; it's about the passion and emotion and pain in his voice more than his nationality. I did a remix for him and started it the day he died in 1997.

On a human level my biggest inspiration is Nelson Mandela, who I got to meet a few years ago. He's about the only politician I trust. When I was in South Africa I visited Rishile primary school in Soweto. We were walking down the path and these kids were singing amazing welcoming songs - the school choir is on my album Prophesy. Under apartheid, their education was virtually non-existent, but what they did have was music. If you listen to South African music it has so much soul and spirit.

My best teacher is music, because it is a place of no division and no barriers. You can't impose the prejudices of the outside world on music - it's about allowing you complete freedom of expression. Music is about freeing your spirit - you can never incarcerate a person's musical sensibility. That's what's really amazing about music.

Musician Nitin Sawney was talking to Harvey McGavin

The story so far

1964 Born Rochester, Kent

1975 Attends Sir Joseph Williamson's mathematical school, Rochester

1983 Liverpool University

1993 First album, Spirit Dance, released

1996 Member of the original cast of Goodness Gracious Me on Radio 4

1999 Remixes for Sir Paul McCartney; produces for Sinead O'Connor and Sting

2000 Fourth album, Beyond Skin, released

2002 Mobo award for album Prophesy

2003 Writes score for Channel 4's Twelfth Night, one of many TVfilm soundtracks; releases sixth album Human

2004 Judges Channel 4's Ideas Factory, which aims to teach the essentials of the soundtrack industry:www.channel4.comideasfactory

June 5 In concert at Hay Festival

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