Review: Amira Kheir + Amadou Diagne @ LIFEM 2014 Kings Place (London, 31st October 2014)

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The Senegalese Amadou Diagne and the Italo-Sudanese Amira Kheir mirrored two different aspects of Africa and its music, but the audience was touched by the same artistic drive that invoked the invaluable cultural richness of the continent.

On a hypothetical road trip you would have to drive 4,000 miles to reach Khartoum in Sudan from Dakar in Senegal, but thanks to LIFEM (London International Festival of Exploratory Music) that distance was covered in just fifteen minutes, the time it took to have an interval drink and some snacks.

The third night of the sixth edition of the ethnic music event was a musical connection between the two African countries, and welcomed onto the Kings Place’s stage were two remarkable artists: the Senegalese Amadou Diagne followed by the Italo-Sudanese Amira Kheir. Their approaches to representing their individual visions of Africa and its music were different, but they were able to touch the audience with the same artistic drive that revealed the invaluable cultural richness of the continent.

Amadou Diagne introduced the evening, setting the mood of the show. Thanks to his mellow, charming voice, the rhythmic, pulsating character of his sound, a lively stage presence and a skilled accompanist he seduced the hall, juggling between guitar and percussion, narrating anecdotes and offering a sincere expression of the West African tradition.

Minutes later Amira Kheir traversed the length and breadth of the Saharan dunes, mirroring the soul of ‘her’ Sudan. The desert was also a protagonist in her gig. Most of the songs played were taken from Amira’s latest album ‘Alsahraa,’ and the interpretation of the title tune was undoubtedly one of the most emotional and imaginative moments of the evening. With the Sahara desert setting the scene, Amira’s voice and artistry to stole the show. She immediately created a bond with her audience. Sparing no words she explained the meaning behind each song. Referring to her impressive musicians as her ‘partners in crime’ she gave an intense and heartwarming performance, walking us through her short but intriguing discography.

Tunes from her first album ‘View from Somehwere’ and her latest recording alternated, demonstrating the musical path undertaken by the singer. Her songs have arguably become more sensitive; well-rounded arrangements enhanced by imaginative melodies to create inspired and suggestive atmospheres. The vitality of Camilo Menjura’s Latin-inflected guitar and the inventive drums played by Leandro Mancini were an invaluable support to Amira’s expressive voice. Meanwhile, the shaded tones of the double bass embraced by Michele Montolli and the virtuosity of Nadir Ramzy and his oud gave the compositions a refined and elegant inflection, awakening jazzy feelings that further amplified the qualities of the music. Amira Kheir’s performance at Kings Place was proof of her artistic maturity. On stage she showed not only an engaging passion for music and her roots, but also an enlightened artistic talent that revealed itself through her voice and her songwriting.

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