Aman (Nawal KWE01307, 2007)
I’m not too shabby when it comes to geography. Still, without a map I couldn’t have told you that the four small Comoros Islands lie between northwest Madagascar and the African continent. I wasn’t too informed about their history or culture, either. Three of the four islands became independent from France in 1975 while one remains a colony. They’ve been fought over a lot, primarily by the French and Arabs, and today a mixture of those nationalities plus mainland African and Indonesian peoples make up most of the population. Islam is the main religion, with some African animist beliefs mixed in.
Nawal, a Comorian woman who bucked the system by becoming a musician in a society where women traditionally do not follow that route, brings equal measures of African, Arabic and Indian Ocean sounds to her album Aman.
Singing in an elongated blues wail of a voice that seems a natural extension of her Sufi background, Nawal also plays guitar and gambusi lute. She’s joined by Idriss Mlanao (contrabass), Melissa Cara Rigoli (mbira, percussion) and some guest players and singers for a set of songs that carry a mainly pensive, mystical tone.
Beginning with a plea for peace ("Salama"), Nawal eloquently addresses such concerns as the plight of women in her homeland ("Hima," "Dandzi"), fulfillment ("Meditation," "Swing Ta Vie") and the power of music ("Musica") with a combination of sparsely pulsating rhythms, chanted passages, occasional declarations in English and a mildly trance-inducing, repetitive quality that allows tracks like the lengthy "Ode a Maarouf" to seep in.
Aman is a quietly stirring disc, a real beauty of a work from a place that’s remote geographically but clearly worth investigating musically.