by Banning Eyre
by Banning Eyre
July 13, 2011 (NPR)
Amina Alaoui is a Moroccan-born singer trained in both Moroccan and Western classical music. She lives in Spain now, and her first recording under her own name, Arco Iris, meditates on the ebb and flow of culture between these two Mediterranean lands.
The album spans many musical traditions and centuries. In “Hado,” Alaoui sings an arrangement of a text dating back to Al-Andalus, Moorish Spain six or more centuries ago. It’s the one place on Arco Iris where it feels like Alaoui is trying to conjure up the actual sound of that mysterious, unrecorded era.
In “Fado Menor,” backed by an unusual ensemble of mandolin, oud, and flamenco guitar, Alaoui reimagines a more recent European hybrid, the Portuguese fado. The melancholy mood and loping cadence of fado are present here, but the ornamentation in Alaoui’s vocal reflects an unusual journey through North African and European art music. The same keen originality shines through when Alaoui veers toward another cultural remnant of Europe’s multicultural past, flamenco — as in the song “Tres Morillas de Jaen.”
On this confident, beautiful CD, Amina Alaoui retraces the steps of her ancestors, exiled from Spain centuries ago. But she also charts her own course through history, writing in the sleeve notes, “The sensation of soul alone is enough for me; no name and no land to attach a lineage to.”
Alaoui ends with the song “Arco Iris,” which means rainbow. In it, the soundscape opens wide, with a nod to Cape Verdean rhythm and lyrics that capture the essence of Alaoui’s deeply informed and deeply imaginative endeavor: “Sun and rain in an embrace,” she sings, “sounds of light and color weave in harmony.” And so they do.