Amira Kheir: Mystic Dance

Rolling on the River

Listening Post 215. The base camp for Mystic Dance (رقصة سحرية)Amira Kheir’s third album, appears on the cover: The pyramids of Meroë, 200 kilometers (125 miles) down the Nile from Khartoum. The locale is an identity marker for the Sudanese-Italian singer-songwriter, a starting point for a musical fabric woven from classical Sudanese and ancient Nubian sounds laced with soul and jazz, rock and desert blues. On the dance-journey, Kheir, who now lives in London, visits traditional and modern, far-off and futuristic shores to which we never imagined the Nile could lead. She sings, in Arabic and English, of love, home, belonging and transcendence, in a voice—sometimes alternately, sometimes simultaneously—powerful and subtle, mellow and melismatic. There’s a smooth but intermittently surreal transition between the collection’s adjacent tracks. Kheir opens with the moody Amwaj (Waves), recalling ancient civilizations and invaders. Around the first bend she comes to Manaok (Forbidden), an oud-driven song of insistent passion—“Can they forbid the breeze/From bringing your scent?” (video 1), sonically twinned with the nostalgic homecoming vision Munaya (Dream, video 2). Nasaim Allel (Night Breezes) refocuses on the album cover, moon and stars signifying the cool relief of the nocturnal desert, and also despair over the world we will leave our children (video 3). This occasions a quantum leap to the barely altered pace of Speak Low, a mid-twentieth century jazz standard by Kurt Weill and Odgen Nash, built around a line from Shakespeare, “Speak low when you speak, love” (video 4). Finally, Sameeri (Kindred Spirit)—similar mid-century setting, parallel love theme—but transported to Khartoum for a swaying, pulsing fusion of all the album’s cultural strands. Dazzling and relaxing, skipping from the confluence of the Blue and White Nile to the junction of myriad music currents, Kheir’s elegant, fanciful tales transcend geography and nurture global connection. (Contro Cultura Music/Sterns Music)

Mystic Dance
Amira Kheir: Vocals, percussion 
Nadir Ramzy: Oud, percussion, vocals 
Michele Montolli: Double bass, electric bass, vocals 
Tal Janes: Acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals 
Leandro Mancini: Drums, percussion, vocals 
Idris Rahman: Clarinet, tenor saxophone 
Leeto Thale: Spoken word 
Hal Hutchison: Marimba 

 

Manaok/Forbidden
Traditional Sudanese “haqeeba” repertoire
Written by Omar Albanna

(from the Arabic lyrics)
If your absence prolongs/I will perish
You, whose soul is uplifting/You have been forbidden by your people

Can they forbid the breeze/From bringing your scent?
Can they forbid the moons/From recounting your beauty?
Can they forbid the tree branches/From leaning in the wind like you?

If they forbid you/Or they leave you
I will not leave my adoration for you

Can they forbid the pen/From writing your name?
Can they forbid a diamond/From glistening like your smile?
Can they forbid silk/From resembling your body?

My agony increased/In my heart
When recollecting your image

 

Munaya/Dream
Written by Nadir Ramzy

You, son of the land/Why are you not serious?
Come and see who has come to greet you
This is what allowed joy to enter my heart/After it had been like a mirage
It became a reality/No longer a dream in my slumber

I didn’t complain
Nor did I tire/Of my exile
My preoccupations increase/And so did my agony
The injustice of time forced me to be separated/From my family and my friends

A gathering with my beloveds
Chatting by the waterwheel/As it turns to water the palm trees in the fields
And the sound of the running water/Sings with the birds

How I long for the conversations in late morning/Over tea and coffee
With my neighbours/Chatting about so and so
Oh, Allah when will I return?/Make my dream come true

 

Nasaim Allel/Night Breezes
Written by Amira Kheir
Spoken word written and performed by Leeto Thale

(from the chanted lyrics in Arabic and the spoken lyrics in Setswana)
Night breezes…

We have lost our tongues/Our children no longer our own
We are sweeping lands far afield
In spite of seas refusing to give us back/The bones of our foremothers and forefathers
Our rage even more palpable/When looking at the faces of our children

It frightens us to foresee them/Carrying burdens which should have long ago
Been taken off their shoulders by ourselves
Fear, which is so much greater/Than the love we give them
Encouraging them unwillingly and not completely seeing/How we actively make them forget the depths of our essence
The weight of poverty making us our own blood’s enemy
Even our children whose eyes glitter/They are in the arms of vandals: we have sold them

Night breezes…

Lions look on in amazement asking themselves too/If indeed we are the same people – we of those times
The prayerful, hunters, we who wear the leopard skin, healers/And all else that we have now sacrificed
Yesterday a person was a person with other people/Today a person is a person with money
Were it not for the quiet that visits us at night/The beauty of the voice that reminds us who we are
We would have lost the pleasant sound of our voices
Night our God, we thank you/Night our God, we thank you

 

Speak Low
Written by Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash

Speak low when you speak, love/Our summer day withers away too soon, too soon
Speak low when you speak, love/Our moment is swift, like ships adrift
We’re swept apart

Speak low, darling, speak low/Love is a spark, lost in the dark too soon, too soon
I feel wherever I go/That tomorrow is near, tomorrow is here
Always too soon

We’re late, darling, we’re late
The curtain descends, everything ends/Too soon
I wait, darling, I wait/Will you speak low to me
Speak love to me/And soon

 


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