Amina: a modern Scheherazade

About Amina

AminaAmina is a symbol of successful musical fusion between Arab and Western worlds emerging right in the 1980s when World music is rising. Her artistic make-up brought her up in two cultures, the cultural melting pot of the Tunisian city of Carthage (with Maghrebi music, Italian variety and the music of Joan Baez and James Brown brought through the Tabarka Festival) and Paris, where she attended the Conservatoire briefly for some formal musical training and was introduced to classical works and exposed to Jazz and Western pop. She grew up around her mum, a gifted musician and composer and grandmother, a talented oud-player. She is a songwriter and vocalist that defy boundaries and brings about an incredibly eclectic fusion of music styles with her haunting Arab rhythms from soul to traditional aigypt songs via pop and rap, a panache weaved before boredom ever existed. Amina is the modern Scheherazade, queen of 1001 nights (and more), counting us the amazing shades of Arab fusion with the rest of the world and letting her voice take her and us wherever the muse does, defying any pigeon-holing.

Amina in ten songs

1. Le dernier qui a parlé – Amina entered this song for France at the 1991 EuroVision Song Contest held in Rome. She was initially declared joint winner with the Swedish contestant but due to EBU’s rules, the French entry ranked 2nd and the award went to Sweden. The incident caused a minor scandal at the time but did not affect her career. The song as co-written with Senegalese musician Wasis Diop, a fusion of African melodies, Western strings, Hip-hop beats, as well as alluding to the then current Gulf War, a political stand that is close to her heart. The song is included in her album “Yahil” which featured musical arrangements by Wasis Diop

2. Yalil (Night) This is the title track of her debut album, produced by Martin Meissonnier, whose credits included King Sunny Ade’s breakthrough international record. Yalil was an adventurous release, but it immediately established Amina in France. The album gained excellent reviews and it was released in 22 countries around the world. It was also released in the USA where it peaked at #5 at the Billboard World Music charts.

3. Belly Dance This track rose up the charts, with its a mix of Amina’s sinuous vocals, pulsing North African rhythm, and a sample taken from James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.”  and established Amina in France.

4. Shehérazade – This is the track that marks the take off of Amina’s solo career in 1983, rapping over a piece of music from Grand Master Flash embedding traditional Arab rhythms, which won her a music contest at Le Palace (the most happening night-club on the Paris scene throughout the 80’s) . The track was released as a CD single.

5. My Man – After the success of Scheherazade, Amina went on to prove a big hit on the Paris music scene, where world and fusion sounds were becoming a veritable craze, becoming became something of a regular fixture at Le Privilege (the basement club at Le Palace) where she caused a stir with her sultry rendition of Billie Holiday covers such as this song. Her arabic version of the song appears in her third eponymous album “Annabi” (her family surname) in 1999, which ” blends eclectic musical influences from London, New York, Mali and the Middle East (string orchestration in particular). Christophe’s “Les Mots bleus” is the other cover on the album besides Billie Holiday’s classic.

6. Wa di yé (Love is Unique) In 1992 shortly after the Eurovision Contest, Amina recorded her second studio album, and she toured around France to promote it. The album was co-produced by Wasis Diop and featured an eclectic mix of guest stars including Nigerian drummer Tony Allen (who played on the track “Salam”), English violinist Nigel Kennedy (“Mammou Ayni”), Tunisian accordionist Zouhir Gouja (“Ezzayakoum” and “Atame”) and the French arranger Joseph Racaille (“A l’abri des portes”). The album was critically and commercially successful and, following the success of “Wa di yé”, the singer embarked upon an extensive international tour including her famous run at the Folies Bergères in Paris in May 1993.

7. Digge In 1992, she release Wadi yé which brought together her Arabic roots, Diop’s West African flavours and Meissonnier’s Western European influence. The record won her the French decoration, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres – an acknowledgment of her stature as an artist. Instead she became a vocal explorer, lending her talent to any number of diverse projects. She sang with Afrika Bambaata, one of the godfathers of modern dance music, in addition to Lenny Kravitz’s “Give Peace a Chance,” the album “Music and Colours” by Steven Duffy & Nigel Kennedy, and Malcom MacLaren’s “Paris” album.

8. Paris – in 1994, Malcolm McLaren (the UK musician notorious for ‘discovering’ the Sex Pistols), invited Amina to guest on his CD album “Paris” along with Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Hardy. McLaren’s album, paid tribute to the French capital and its charms.

9. IP5 soundtrack. Amina collaborated with many international music stars. After recording a duet (“Shango”) with Afrika Bambaata, one of the founding fathers of hip hop, in 1986 she went on to work with the Japanese musician Yasuaki Shimizu for his album “Subliminal” then went on to perform backing vocals on an album by Haruomi Hosano, an artist famous for having set up the Yellow Magic Orchestra with Ryuichi Sakamoto, and one of the first musicians to come up with the idea of fusing Oriental-style music with electro synthesiser sounds. Amina’s work with Shimizu and Hosano made her a major star in Japan where she thereafter performed an extensive tour there in 1987. In 2000, Amina took part in a special fund-raising concert for “la Chaîne de l’espoir” (a charity that flies children over from Third World countries for operations and hospital treatment in France) with some 20 other female singers at La Cigale in Paris for a special one-off show on March 8th. The concert proved such a hit with the public that the girls got together again one year later to perform in concert and film a video clip. Amina flew out to the States in July 2001 to perform at the “Vive la World!” Festival alongside other French groups such as Ekova and Lo’Jo. The “Vive la World!” tour involved five dates in four different towns: Detroit (July 14th), New York (July 15th), Washington (July 17th and 18th) and Los Angeles (July 21st). She’s cut a track with former Eurhythmic Dave Stewart, and she’s recorded and performed with London-based Moroccan DJ, U-Cef. In 1991, Amina won the French prize ‘Le prix Piaf’ as Best Female Singer of the Year, then she went on to get involved in Peter Gabriel’s peace project during the Gulf War. Joining a host of international stars in the studio, Amina took part in the recording of an EP which featured a new version of Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”.In addition to her own work, Amina guested with others, working with talents raging from Cameroon’s seminal Manu Dibango to Lenny Kravitz, former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm MacLaren to classical violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy. She also pursued another passion – cinema – acting in several films. But the movies have been an ongoing inspiration for Amina, the source for both “Atame” (the original Spanish title for Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) and “Ederlezi” (the original of which first featured in Kusturica’s 1989 Time of the Gypsies).

Amina made her cinematic début in 1989 supporting famous French actress Anémone in the French movie “Maman”, followed a year after by a critically acclaimed minor role in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Sheltering Sky” starring John Malkovitch and Debra Winger. From there it was a short step to soundtrack work, and Amina appeared on cuts for IP5, Odysseus, and recorded a duet with the late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on a track for Dead Man Walking. In 1991 Amin, she stars in Claude Lelouch’s epic “la Belle histoire”. Then in 1992 she recorded the soundtrack to Jean-Jacques Beinex’s film “IP5” (which starred the legendary French actor Yves Montand in his final role).

10. Nene At the request and encouragement of Publisher Alecia Cohen of Global Rhythm Magazine and executive producer of the first in a series of compilations to be released by Naxos records entitled Global Rhythm for Kids.  Amina composed and recorded a children’s lullaby entitled “Nene” for the Global Rhythm for Kids compilation. The tune is reminiscent of a folk song similar to ones she heard her mother sing and her grandmother play on the Ud while growing up in Tunisia.  Amina blends melodic simple traditional Tunisian Arabic lyrics in along accappla vocal sing along all set to a North African beat created with rhythmic handclapping.

10. “Dis-Moi Pourquoi” In this track, Amina created a slice of ethnic pop that returned her to the charts after a long hiatus. With “Dis-Moi Pourquoi”, Amina is finally introduced in America as the track features on the compilation Desert Rose and Arabian Rhythms. The track is also included in Nomad, the best of Amina released on Mondo Melodia Records, which also contains two previously unreleased cuts, her take on “Ederlezi” and the brand new “Ya Baba,” recorded with a band comprised of Algerian and Tunisian musicians.

including extracts first published Fri 28 Jan 2011 by Manuella Essaka for Geli Berg’s Cultural Collage

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