(2007–Brick’s Picks, LA Weekly)
Singer and multi-instrumentalist Nawal is from the Comoros, an island nation nestled between Africa’s eastern shore and Madagascar, awash in the cultural influences of the Indian Ocean. On Aman, her new tour de force, the nearby African rhythms—that kalimba, and the drumming and call and response—mix with Malagasy melodicism and tunings and the complexities of Arabic and Indian musical traditions. Nawal’s years in France too have left their impact in some Django-tinged guitar playing, and her trio is backboned by a strong contrabassist which gives most of the tunes a jazzy thrum down the middle. The variety of songwriting and styles, that mix of sweet melody and energetic rhythms remind one a bit of much of Brazil’s best—the variety of Caetano Veloso, of Gilberto Gil at his rootsy finest (and her voice often sounds remarkably like Tom Ze). The long tendrils of Islam are never far off, and Sufism suffuses the entire project, lyrically (“God is in your mind/God is in all things”) and in long Sufi trance passages that must be remarkable in person. And dig Idris Mlanao’s jazzy basslines—it’s what jazz fan can grab onto as we listen, soaking in all the exoticism of the rest. Her live shows reportedly are even better than the album, and if you are looking for something a little different this week, Nawal is highly recommended.