Embrace the Spirit (Milan M2-36551, 2011)
I was, and remain, very fond of Nawal’s 2007 release Aman. Rooted in the traditional music of the Indian Ocean’s Comoros Islands and the Sufi perspective of the artist herself, the album was a plea for peace, a celebration of human potential and an invitation to look within oneself for the courage to strive for a better life. Embrace the Spirit goes a similar route, although the trio format of the previous album gives way to Nawal performing strictly solo, accompanying herself on gambusi lute, plucked mbira, flute and daf frame drum.
The sparse musical backing gives Nawal’s voice, by turns folksy, operatic, cantoring and muezzin-like, all the space it needs to glide across spiritual meditations on struggles for freedom in places like Tunisia and Zimbabwe, the senselessness of ongoing violence in the Middle East, the emergence of women in Islamic societies and, above all, the need to always seek peaceful solutions.
Through overdubbing, Nawal is able to build a few of the songs around call-and-response vocal structures that sound like equal parts mainland Africa and American gospel, while the mbira-supported tracks echo the spatial trance music of Zimbabwe’s Stella Chiweshe. There’s a lengthy instrumental on the gambusi that’s pleasant but never quite picks up, though Nawal’s moodier solo piece on flute makes good use of sound mixed with silence for a meditative effect.
The whole CD, in fact, seems designed to transport mind and soul to places beyond the material world. It gets you there with varying doses of rhythm, melody, wide open space and, most importantly, the lulling but strong voice of a singer the entire world would do well to pay attention to.