Review – Alsarah & the Nubatones @ Rich Mix (London, 4th March 2016)

There couldn’t have been a better way of ending the Music from Egypt & Sudan series than presenting a gig of the finest Nubian-inspired ensemble on the scene – Alsarah and her trusty Nubatones. Presented by MARSM (a UK-based events organisation that promotes the rich and diverse culture of the Arab world) the Rich Mix event hosted a selection of North-East-African sounds, enviable technique and unrestrained, dancy vitality. There’s little more to say than this: the show was a groovy and rhythmic celebration of the Southern Egyptian and Northern Sudanese traditions from the first tune to the last.

It is the first time that Alsarah has brought her Nubatones to London and their fans were yearning for the occasion. They turned out in huge numbers, selling out the East London venue and creating a buzzing setting for the performance. Credit goes to the entertaining stage presence of the main actresses of the show: Alsarah and Nahid. Their voices, dance moves and impeccable style caught the audience’s attention since the moment they jumped on stage and kept everyone absorbed until they left – and what a show! There are few enough musicians whose aim is to revive the meaningful Nubian cultural heritage, but even fewer who can do it in such an energetic yet refined way.

What Alsarah and the Nubatones do on stage looks straightforward and uncomplicated at first-sight. Throughout their gigs the musicians played simple, fresh and catchy songs, which could easily be identified as pop  – or as Alsarah loves to define them, ‘retro-pop’. The secret to the smoothness and elegance of these tunes lies in that definition, because the ‘retro’ suffix refers to the glorious millennia-old Nubian culture that dates back to the 8th century BC, and which received a big blow less than sixty years ago after being displaced by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. Most of the compositions played were in fact written during that period. They inevitably concealed some nostalgia and homesickness, as in the rendition of  “Bilad Al Dahab”. However, the tears soon dried as the vivacious rhythms of the region, invigorated and updated by percussionist Rami El Aasser persuaded more than four hundred hips to sway during “Habibi Taal”, while “Nuba Noutou” had the same effect on shoulders and chests.

Despite all the suffering they have endured Nubians, as well as being remarkable musicians, are determined and tenacious people, and we are lucky to be able to continue enjoying their tradition, thanks to the efforts of artists like Alsharah and the Nubatones.

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