Words by Nigel Williamson
Like Natacha Atlas, Laïla Amezian was born in Belgium to parents of Moroccan heritage. And like Atlas, she has spent many years singing in different genres, including chanson, jazz, rock, electro-dance, fusion and Arabic music. After working with bands such as Jaune Toujours and Arabanda, her solo debut release is a fantastic record of monumental assurance and maturity. She sets centuries-old verse by Sufi poets and lyrics by the 20th century Lebanese mystic Khalil Gibran to an austere but wonderful backing that combines elements of Arabic, classical and jazz composition. For the most part her sinuous voice is accompanied by little more than the cello of Anja Naucler and the inventive percussion of Stephan Pougin, although there’s some hauntingly freeform trumpet that weaves in and out of three tracks and a splash of spooky electric guitar effects on a couple more.
The centrepiece (although it actually closes the album) is an 11-minute setting of a fragment from Gibran’s The Prophet (a book which has sold so many copies it has allegedly made its author the world’s third best-selling poet behind only Shakespeare and Lao-Tze). With Naucler’s cello creating a soundbed of reverberating layers of Arabic atmosphere, Amezian delivers the lyrics with mesmerising poise and a rich emotion that magically invokes the mystic portent of Gibran’s words. There’s even an extraordinary version of ‘Strange Fruit’. Frequently described as the hardest song in the world to sing, in conveying the pure terror of the horrific events it describes, Amezian’s spellbinding delivery isn’t far behind the famous versions by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. An awesome record, in every sense.
TRACK TO TRY: The Gift