Sunday, 18 May 2014

Amira Kheir - Alsahraa

First published in fRoots issue 372, June 2014

Amira Kheir
Sterns Music (52 mins)

As a Sudanese-Italian living in London, Amira Kheir takes influence from many different cultures and musical styles. In her debut album View from Somewhere, she dotted between Sudanese traditional, Arabic classical music, jazz, soul and even hints of pop music and sang in three different languages.

However, in her second album, Alsahraa (meaning 'the desert'), Kheir shows an increasing maturity and decisiveness in her sound. Fewer genres are blended here – the main attention is to the melding of Sudanese music with soft jazz – and she only sings in Arabic and Italian. As a result, the album feels much more focussed; with a more concentrated style, the tracks of this album blend very well, often leading to the sensation of an overall flow underneath the album.

The high points of Alsahraa come when Kheir is at her most contemplative, such as the tracks 'Ma’assalama Rafiqi', a duet with Senegalese singer Abdoulaye Samb, and 'Fil Teyf', a quiet number backed only by the oud. A more up-tempo highlight is the bossa-inspired celebration of womankind, 'Ya Mara'. The album also contains some exciting instrumental interplay: an interesting relationship is formed between Kheir’s smooth and floating voice and the double bass of Michele Montolli, each seeming to compliment the other perfectly, the individual timbres being almost equal yet opposite.

The overall smoothness of the album can at times lead to it feeling rather bland, though. Through the length of the album, the tracks always feel as if they’re leading up to an explosive finish that never quite comes. But if you have a read of Kheir’s intentions for the album, it begins to make sense. The aim of the album is to make the listener feel ‘overwhelmed in the barren landscape of the desert’…and when you think of it that way, the unrelenting smoothness seems to portray the undulating dunes and oppressive yet beautiful silence of an empty desert.