Amina Annabi was born in Carthage (Tunisia). Her family emigrated to France when she was 12. At home she listened to her mother’s North African songs, Egyptian singer Um Kalthum and Western music like James Brown, French ‘chanson’ and her all-time favorite, Billie Holiday.
Trained as a singer at the Conservatory, she started out as a proto-rapper in 1986, before unleashing her voice on her debut album, Yalil, in 1989, a record produced by Martin Meisonnier, who’d worked with many of the top names in French world music. She hit the spotlight in 1991, when she won the Eurovision Song Contest, representing France. It was a huge breakthrough, both culturally and musically. Amina was the first North African ever picked for France, and the song Le Dernier Qui A Parle, broke away from the bland Eurovision tradition to offer a sound that was both challenging, with its mix of North and West African melodies with Franco-pop, and, in the time of the Gulf War, overly political.
Throughout her career, she has continued to push at her limits, to work with new people. 1992’s Wadi ye added Senegal’s Wasis Diop to the production team, and brought a new African element into the mix for tracks like Wadileh. 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).
There was a seven-year gap between Amina’s second and third albums. When she returned in 1999 with Annabi (her real-life last name), it was with a new attitude and plenty of new sounds. Producers like Renegade Soundwave and Mark Saunders entered the fold, and the beats became harder and more creative. Songs like Habibi 2 and Lirrili explored the trance rhythms of her native North Africa, placing them in a modern context. The record was a series of experiments, none more radical than her reworking of the Billie Holiday classic, My Man. The torch song moved to the Magreb, where swooping strings framed Amina’s voice, singing in an Arabic way, but in English, to bring a fresh, startling perspective to a standard. In Dis-Moi Pouquoi she created a slice of ethnic pop that returned her to the charts after a long hiatus.
Nomad, the Best of Amina highlights the power of Amina’s voice, and the way her artistry has developed. It also adds two cuts, which have never appeared on album before, her take on Ederlezi and the brand new Ya Baba, recorded earlier this year with a band comprised of Algerian and Tunisian musicians.