Published Oct 04, 2016The concept and question of identity fuels the music of Sudanese singer-songwriter Alsarah. Of Nubian descent, the woman born Sarah Mohamed Abunama-Elgadi is a fervent ethnomusicologist: her introspective gaze, which understands the complex artistic and political history of the African region she calls home, defines both the artist and the album.
Alternatively singing in Nubian and Arabic languages, Manara powerfully speaks of displacement, of diasporic disconnection, of socio-political sentiment and selfhoods. So over poetically abstract lyrics, Alsarah and five-piece band the Nubatones manage to convey a multitude of indigenous emotions, folklore and passions.
With a sound dubbed "East African Retropop," the Brooklyn-based band — including Rami El Aasser on percussion, bassist Mawuena Kodjovi, Brandon Terzic on oud and sister Nahid providing additional vocals — navigate social issues in the global context of rising anti-immigrant moods. Opening number "Salam Nubia" gives an urgent, anthemic feel, setting the stage for 14 tracks that traverse themes of belonging, of understanding, of finding commonalities and bridging differences.
The gentle gallop groove of "Albahr" entrances, "Ya Watan" maintains a progressive, pulsating feel and the quietus of "Nar" overwhelms us with introspection. Title track "Manara" is fuelled by the calming undercurrents of running water, carrying listeners down an audio stream of high consciousness. (Wonderwheel)