Preview: Amira Kheir – From Improvised Jazz to Film Score (and back again)

Amira Kheir

Amira Kheir, a contemporary jazz singer, musician and songwriter of Sudanese Origin, writes about taking on the new challenge of creating a live film score for the Birds Eye View Film Festival at BFI Southbank on Thursday 4th April 2013, and learning to think of herself as a ‘composer’.

When Rachel Millward – the Director of the Birds Eye View Film Festival – called me up and asked if I’d compose the score to a silent film based on the ‘Arabian Nights’, my first reaction was ‘Of course!’ – without really thinking about it!

Later, when I thought it through, I wondered if I was actually the right person for the project. I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘composer’ – at least not in this sense . I write my own songs and have been performing in the UK and internationally for the past few years, but up until then had always thought of myself more as a singer-songwriter and musician than a ‘composer’. How would my style of music translate to this setting?

Embarking on this commission has been a transformative and eye-opening experience for exactly that reason. It has allowed me find new significance in my work as a musician and re-learn the meaning of music as a form of expression that manifests itself not as a result of defined roles but in spite of them. When I write music independently, the driving force is always what I want to express. When scoring a film, the driving force shifts to trying to best interpret what someone else tried to express and lending my own relationship with music to that.

It’s been an amazing new way to interact with sound and with an ensemble, but actually rather than changing my approach I’m most excited about how it can be adapted and re-applied to the new challenge. My work has always been largely based on improvisation, and I think it’s going to be fascinating to keep that approach in developing the score with the band – I’ve already got some great musicians on board, including Nadir Ramzy on oud, Ben Hazleton on double bass and Elizabeth Nott on percussion.

It’s truly exciting to be entrusted with creating the soundtrack to such an aesthetically and dramatically beautiful film and add my interpretation to the story, and – while I’m not quite there yet – am enjoying the new feeling of calling myself a ‘composer’, and how that will affect my work in future.

Amira Kheir’s live score for Sumurun (One Arabian Night) premieres at BFI Southbank for the 2013 Birds Eye View Film Festival: Celebrating Arab Women Filmmakers, on Thursday 4 April at 6.10pm (book tickets HERE); it will then transfer to the Watershed in Bristol on 14 April at 6pm (book tickets HERE).

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