The Alchemy of Amina Alaoui's Arco Iris / A Musical Rainbow

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There is an extraordinary new album by Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui called Arco Iris (Rainbow).  It celebrates many musical styles and musical psyches, conjoining them like few albums do.

Part of the reason why Arco Iris is so diverse comes from Arabic-Andalusian history.  Al-Andalus, as Moorish Spain was called, had Jewish, Moorish, and Christian populations and culture.  During the Crusades, Europeans ventured far and wide, to Cyprus, Jerusalem, Syria, and brought other musical traditions back with them.  Ziryab, the famous musician from Baghdad, left Iraq and passed through Persia, Syria, Tunisia, went to Cordoba to found a music school there.  He brought music from his travels and the musical landscape of Andalusia was newly enriched.  Like the album’s title, Arco Iris, the music of Al-Andalus was truly a rainbow of colors.

Stream Flor de Nieve by Amina Alaoui

Coming from Morocco, just a hair’s-breadth from Southern Spain, Amina Alaoui blends all these diverse traditions on her new ECM cd.  I first heard her on a French cd on Auvidis called Alcantara.  I put a cut called “Amour trop tard me suis pris” on volume 5 of my series Trance Planet.  The titles roughly translates as “Love (came and) Embraced Me Too Late”.  I wondered about this awkward French, a language I know and speak, and realized she was singing in Medieval French, probably from the time of the Crusades, when troubador poetry was spread around Europe and the Middle East by both Christian and Saracen crusaders.  It goes again to show how music can reveal such an interesting and profound human history.

On her new exquisitely produced ECM cd, Alaoui performs in many styles:  Arabic tarab, Portuguese fado, early (pre-Renaissance) music, flamenco, and other forms.  The spirit of duende (intense emotion withheld from outward expression but clearly felt) inhabits much of the music.  Instruments include the Persian daf drum, violin, oud, flamenco guitar (played by Jose Luis Monton), electric guitar, mandolin, and various percussion.

It’s a magical musical alchemy (“al-chemy” is an Arabic word, meaning a chemical mixture) is there ever was one.  It’s music to levitate and dream to.  Musical elixirs like these only come rarely.  Highest recommendation.