Alsarah & The Nubatones – Silt

Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel

Alsarah & The Nubatones
Silt
Wonderwheel Recordings (47 mins)

****
Sudanese soul sister sings songs of return

While US-based Sudanese singer Alsarah appeared on our radar last year with her work as part of the Nile Project, as well as her duo album with French producer Débruit, Silt is her debut with her own band, The Nubatones. Both of those previous projects drew on themes of migration and displacement, and these are the major themes here too. Silt has its musical roots in the Nubian ‘songs of return’ in particular, which started appearing in 1970 after thousands of Nubians were displaced by flooding from the Aswan Dam. The songs voice a longing and nostalgia for home or place, much like the idea of saudade in fado.

The album kicks off with the soulful traditional song ‘Habibi Taal’, which is followed by the original ‘Soukura (It’s Late)’, a sultry yet funky number with a grooving bass line that is the album’s highlight. There are several other outstanding traditional tracks such as ‘Nuba Noutou’ and the eerily ambient ‘Jibal Alnuba’. But it’s the original tracks that make the album really shine, including ‘Fugu (Shams Alhurria)’ with its plucky synth sound, and the beautiful ‘Oud Solo’ performed by Haig Manoukian, which sounds all the more poignant due to the sad news of Manoukian’s death in early April. Creating something fresh yet timeless and imbued with a sense of nostalgia, Silt is an excellent album that perfectly captures the essence of what Alsarah describes as ‘East African retro pop.’

TRACK TO TRY Soukura (It’s Late)

This review originally appeared in Songlines #101 (July 2014) p60. Photo by Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel.

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