Album Review: Amira Kheir – Mystic Dance [Sterns Music; 12th October 2018]

Amira Kheir is no stranger to making critically acclaimed albums, this latest instalment being her third full-length release for Sterns Music after View From Somewhere (2011), and Alsahraa (2014).

Amira Kheir has a beautiful sound that smoothly blends the nostalgic tones of East Africa: North Sudan/Southern Egypt Nubian musical traditions, the Nubians being one of the oldest and most notable civilisations of Northern Africa, dating back to the 8th century.

This latest album is an elegant crossroads, opening with ‘Amwaj (Waves)’ with its hypnotic and actually rather addictive mellow, steady rhythm and a modestly groovy bass, that melodically reminds me of waves… I keep coming back to this song again and again.

Then the second and third songs show Amira’s variety and dedication to the continuation of characteristic Nubian sounds, as they open with the classic sound of the tanbur (also known as a kissar, which is an ancient lyre found in North and East Africa), followed by Amira’s soft melismatic vocals which are joined by male vocals. Together with the driving rhythm and ‘clap’ beat aesthetics, the overall effect is of soft harmony between musician, music and listener.

The title track ‘Mystic Dance’ introduces the sounds of the electric guitar and haunting vocals, this time in the English language. Lyrically, the story is beautifully poetic, and the song slowly builds musically to pure instrumental moments.

‘You, Me’ is a personal highlight for me. With groovy melodies and rhythms, again in English, this song is a great in-between of African influences, but also of the Western influences in Amira, who shares her roots in Sudan and Italy, and is currently living in London.

‘Zol (Guy)’ opens acapella call and response between Amira and a male vocal, and it is a true testament to the graceful and beautiful vocal range always executed to perfection from Amira. This stripped-back track perhaps feels like the closest ode to traditional music on the album.

Again, Amira manages to capture the nostalgic character of Nubian music, mixed with western sounding instruments: clarinet and double bass on ‘Nasaim Allel (Night Breezes)’.

The closing track ‘Sameeri (Kindred Spirit)’ musically takes us to the Sahara Desert blues, again with the characteristic claps, male call and response, and cleverly played – what would be an electric guitar line – on a saxophone.

The whole album is warm and melodically beautiful. The production respectfully highlights the rich sounds of the tanbur and various African drums, as well as perfectly fusing a multitude of western wind instruments, and throughout, Amira Kheir’s vocals are graceful and flawless, making the entire listening experience smooth and nostalgic.