Amina Alaoui vocals, daf
Saïfallah Ben Abderrazak violin
Sofiane Negra oud
José Luis Montón flamenco guitar
Eduardo Miranda mandolin
Idriss Agnel percussion
Recorded April 2010, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Voices, loved and idealized, of those who have died, or of those lost for us like the dead. Sometimes they speak to us in dreams; sometimes deep in thought the mind hears them. And with their sound for a moment return sounds from our life’s first poetry—like music at night, distant, fading away.
–Constantin P. Cavafy, Voices
Does the incantation call or is it called? The word comes from the Latin incantationem, the “art of enchanting.” And what is enchantment but a merging of spell caster and object, of flesh and energy. And so, while the incantation masquerades as an offering to a sky we can never touch, it is a body composed of many. It shrugs off the wings sewn into its back, catching thermals of word alone. Moroccan-born Amina Alaoui understands, profoundly, that the incantation is not something one can hold or even shape but a web of moving parts on which her voice is a dewdrop poised to fall. We are accompanied, as the violin that joins her, by a butterfly of trepidation whose lilting paths of flight carve us like soapstone. An oud’s inky presence sprouts roots and calligraphy, wishing upon stars of portent. Alaoui holds the shore, touching the torches of her diction to ancestral memory, each a wad of flash paper in a trickster’s pocket. Plectrums open and close—dragonfly wings balancing on vibrating tightropes. Though we may dance to the taps of these hollow-bodied fantasies, hitting reality at 90-degree angles, we know that the variations known to open eyes are infinite. She assures us of this, appealing to the moon’s pale fire and licking our feathers clean as we grow lost and hungry for attention. We are the dream of a serpent’s unspoken prayer, waking just in time to see mountains cut the firmament with their life volcanic. Or is it the instruments that fill in those spaces, each a dervish to its own heartbeat? Bows and fingers, shifting winds and sands—all leave their fingerprints on our skin. This is how Arco Iris feels.
An album comprised of one song, drawn from fado, flamenco, and Al Andalusi currents, in addition to Alaoui’s own. We see her world for what it is, bearing as it does the mark of lived experience in a “common crucible of these styles.” One might say the Iberian Peninsula lingers in the marrow, but as she notes in the accompanying booklet, Alaoui is less interested in nostalgia than in dialogue, in how “poetic geography” communicates through openness of expression. This means not only a blurring of spatial, but also temporal borders. In so disassembling the origins of this music, she peers beyond idioms and straight into the images that sustain them. They are her shelter, her way of being in the world. This is what Arco Iris is.
(See this review as it originally appeared in RootsWorld Magazine. To hear more samples, click here.)