Amira Kheir ‘Alsahraa’ (Sterns) 4/5

amira-kheirSudanese-Italian singer Amira Kheir released her first album to a warm, if quiet reception, with the 2011 debut ‘View from somewhere’, but this follow up promises to attract a far wider audience second time round. The music has a gentle desert folk-blues feel to it with oud and nay instruments in evidence, but with a subtle jazzy undercurrent courtesy of double bassist Michele Montolli and trumpeter James Mackay which gives the overall sound a sparse and intimate ambience. Recorded live at Union Chapel in London, a city that Kheir now calls her home, the singer sings mainly in Arabic, but also in Italian. A joyful sounding uptempo number, ‘Habibi (Come to me my love)’ features some lovely guitar chords from Camilo Menjura while the deeply evocative title track, referring to the Sahara desert, contains a gloriously jazz bass line and some stunning vocals from Kheir. Arguably her finest vocal performance comes on ‘Ya mara (woman)’ which is a song to reinvigorate the plight of women. The pared down jazz-inflected bass and percussion on ‘Ya Gadir (Powerful one)’ impresses as does the virtual a capella song ‘Luna (Moon)’.
Amira Kheir has a voice not dissimilar in tone to Algerian chanteuse Souad Massi. The only minor gripe is that the bi-lingual Arabic and English lyrics on the inner sleeve are so tiny that is virtually impossible to decipher them. Otherwise a fine album from a singer that seems destined for bigger things.

Tim Stenhouse