Sensual, Charming, a whole host of global melodies, rhythmic measures and rich textured vocals are just on the horizon with AMINA. She is…“Queen of the Night” Don Heckman LA TIMES
“I’m interested in many musics,” explains Amina. “ I think of my voice as an instrument. I’m like a free spirit, a gypsy voice.” And that’s the perfect way to describe her voice, a woman who can move from a haunting Arabic cover of Billie Holiday’s torch classic “My Man” to an entry in the Eurovision song contest and then to hard techno and garage. She’s someone who’s never seen the boundaries in music.
Born in 1962 in Carthage, Tunisia, the women in Amina’s family always made music. Her grandmother played the oud, and her mother sang – although just at home, since women of good backgrounds didn’t perform in public. From them Amina learned the Maghrebi music that’s still at her heart.
When she was 12, the family moved to France, in search of economic opportunity, and a whole new world opened. Suddenly, in addition to Tunisian music and Arabic idol Oum Kalthoum, she was exposed to James Brown, jazz, and Western pop. Amina developed her voice, and attended the Conservatoire briefly for some formal musical training.
“I grew up with two cultures,” she explains, “I speak Arabic, English and French, and I work with all cultures, which isn’t the case for many people.”
Her career began in earnest in 1986, when she released her first single, rapping over a piece of music from Grandmaster Flash. But after that it was three years before she released her debut album, Yalil, produced by Martin Meissonnier, whose credits included King Sunny Ade’s breakthrough international record.
Yalil was an adventurous release, but it immediately established Amina in France, with “Belly Dance” rising up the charts, a mix of her sinuous vocals, pulsing North African rhythm, and a sample taken from James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.”
But it was 1991 that saw her move to superstardom, when she sang “Le Dernier Qui A Parlé,” France’s winning entry in the prestigious Eurovision Song Contest. Co-written with Senegalese musician Wasis Diop, it pushed the envelope, embracing strings, hip-hop beats, and an African melody, in addition to lyrics that alluded to the world’s political situation.
“It was the Gulf War, and I was representing the Arabs in France,” recalls Amina. “If the words hadn’t been political, I wouldn’t have gone; that was very important to me.” To return the favor, she added her voice to Diop’s own album, and sang on a disc by world music legend Manu Dibango, the power behind the seminal “Soul Makossa.” 1992 brought Wadi yé, which stretched Amina’s musical boundaries even further. Produced by both Meissonnier and Diop, it was a world fusion record in the days before that even existed. The roots remained firmly Arabic, but the branches touched West Africa and Europe, and brought them all together. The record won her the French decoration, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres – an acknowledgment of her stature as an artist. At that point it would have been easy for Amina to capitalize on her popularity and release a string of albums. But it wouldn’t have been satisfying. Instead she became a vocal explorer, lending her talent to any number of diverse projects. She sang with Afrika Bambaata, one of the godfathers of modern dance music, in addition to Lenny Kravitz’s “Give Peace a Chance,” the album “Music and Colours” by Steven Duffy & Nigel Kennedy, and Malcom MacLaren’s “Paris” album. It was all experience, and, as she laughs, “at least I don’t get bored, and people don’t get bored with me.”
She also pursued an acting career, appearing in Bertolucci’s Sheltering Sky, and The Advocate, with Colin Firth and Donald Pleasance. From there it was a short step to soundtrack work, and Amina appeared on cuts for IP5, Odysseus, and recorded a duet with the late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on a track for Dead Man Walking. By 1999 she was ready to return to the studio for her third album, Annabi (which is her last name). The experiences of the last few years had taught her a great deal, and she’d kept her ears open to new sounds. “It had jungle and trip-hop,” she explains. “I had many producers like Renegade Soundwave, Mark Sanders. I wanted to go in that direction, to mix jungle beats with Arabic music and new sounds with Arabic melodies.” That was exactly what it did, on tracks like the hit single “Dis-Moi Pourquoi.” But she continued to takes chances, and none greater than her interpretation of the standard “My Man,” by her favorite singer, Billie Holiday. “I’d been doing Billie Holiday songs with Arabic instruments,” she says. “I did “My Man” in English, but with an Arabic accent, and Arabic way of singing, Arabic strings.” It worked, the jazzy inflections blending perfectly with the strings and Amina’s swooping, sensuous heartache.
Annabi was an artistic landmark in her career, however in the years since then she’s moved even further. “I’m been invited to work with a lot of people, like hip-hop star, Imhotep. I’ve worked with Nigel Kennedy and Stephen Duffy again, on a track for their new album.” as well as former Eurhythmic Dave Stewart, to name a few. In 2002 her work was released officially in America. “Dis-Moi Pourquoi” was featured on the compilation Desert Rose and Arabian Rhythms, and The Best of Amina all receiving rave reviews. Amina refuses to be pigeonholed. Her music goes wherever her Muse takes her, and that’s exactly the way she wants it.
“Perhaps I can do an album of children’s songs,” she says thoughtfully, “or one of jazz, or one that’s techno and garage. I feel free to sing what I want.” To this end Amina composed and recorded a children’s lullaby entitled “Nene” for The Global Rhythm for kids (Naxos Records). The tune is reminiscent of a folk songs similar to ones she heard her mother sing and her grandmother play on the Ud while growing up in Tunisia. Amina blends melodic simple traditional Tunisian Arabic lyrics in along accappla vocal sing along all set to a North African beat created with rhythmic handclapping.
In 2011 she released what is being called one of her best yet – Yannari Freedom – mixing English and Arab lyrics – all set to an simple but beautiful acoustic live rendition. Performing it live in Cartage, Tunisia soon after the revolution. It received rave reviews and has become of their beloved anthems of hope.
AMINA is currently touring throughout Europe and the Middle East returning to the roots of her music… preparing new material for her upcoming recordings and tour in the Americas (Arab/ North Africa Music Spring on tour). AMINA explores the world as she listens for the rich textured North African, Arabic sounds that will fuse with the many new styles of music that Amina hears in her new compositions. She believes it will be a global musical exploration representing the assorted life she has lead of the last fifteen years “almost just like watching a movie, the scenes is constantly changing”. These experiences will reflect through melodies and rhythms bringing a new maturity to Amina’s song compositions and expose another side to her vocal talents. She hopes to creative a sense of reflection for the listener, and at the same time, create multitudes of emotions from moments of sorry to moments of elation and joy. “Very much what the world has felt for the past two years”. For more information contact us at email@example.com