After the events of the Arab Spring, commentators were quick to point out the very different worlds, separated by narrow waters, between North Africa and Southern Europe. Even forgiving the flaws of such a stark comparison, such circumstances make all the important and welcome this wonderful latest offering from the Morrocan-born Amina Alaoui.
Assisted by musicians from Tunisia, Barcelona and Brazil via Portugal on violin, oud, flamenco guitar and mandolin respectively as well as her own son on percussion, Alaoui has created a timely yet timeless tribute to the various musical influences of the Iberian peninsula. To this extent at least "Arco Iris" comes from the same tradition of fellow ECM artist Savina Yannatou's group Primevera en Salonico amongst others.
Lest there be any doubt, "Arco Iris" is beautifully recorded and exquisitely packaged with informative yet mood-enhancing liner notes from Alaoui herself.
"Fado Al-Mu'tamid" is a self-descriptive fado arrangement of the words of the eleventh century Al-Mu-tamid Ibn Abbad (a one-time ruler of the Taifa of Seville). "Yo laylo layl" is a fantastically sensual and evocative working of on a poem by another Moorish poet of the time, Ibn Zaydun de Cordoba. Not to be outdone, the last two compositions feature the words of Alaoui herself. Of those two, while Que Fare is excellent, the concluding title song "Arco Iris" (which means Rainbow") is, for me, the highlight of the entire recording as Alaoui sings wistfully (in Spanish) of the "Bride of rain for a moment/Or the cloud angel's bow".
The lack of appreciation for "Arco Iris" is tragic as, without wishing to pigeonhole her, Alaoui deserves to receive the acclaim and popularity of Fado's leading light, Mariza as one will struggle in world and jazz circles to find someone fashioning a finer body of work than Aloui to whom I give the last word "What do we have left without love, without nuances, without a rainbow?"