Nesrine – Nesrine
(ACT 9919-2. CD review by Alison Bentley)
Singer/composer/cellist Nesrine sings in French, Arabic and English and her songs are full of African-based grooves and engaging harmonies. The first thing you notice is her beautiful voice, with its emotional directness and rich vibrato. Her vocal timbre can be a little like Erykah Badu: My Perfect Man brings soulful ornamentation and diaphanous backing vocals. (Manel & Imène Belmokh, and Nesrine’s mother Leïla Guinoun, who has also written the Arabic lyrics to several tracks.)
Rissala (Letter), Rimitti and Mumkin (Maybe) are sung in Arabic, with the vocal calls and responses of the latter full of beautiful Arabic whorls. Nesrine was born in France to an Algerian family and now lives in Spain, where she has played cello extensively in the Valencia Opera. In Rissala, she bows Eastern phrases on her cello, like maqams, the way she decorates her singing. David Gadea’s percussion is high in the mix and full of verve alongside Swaéli Mbappe’s groovy bass. Rimitti has a hypnotic feel, steeped in the blues. The voice is given some gritty electronic enhancement and there’s John Lee Hooker-ish guitar from Vincent Huma, the arco cello in gorgeous multi-tracked harmonies.
Despite – or perhaps because of – their delicacy, the tracks all have a sense of constantly pushing forwards in different ways. Elle, sung in French, brings slow reggae to urgent percussion and layered subtle cross rhythms. Night intersperses rock-edged cello arpeggios in sections of “dark surrender” with bright major sections. These veer between reggae bass and sweet soukous guitar. Sometimes the cello is used in a percussive way. Silent Mood conjures an Afro-Latin groove from pizzicato cello and Gadea’s fragile percussion; the voice is quieter and perfectly controlled. The album’s only cover is Vitamin C by German rock band Can. This is a pared-down version, driven by cello, percussion and bluesy vocals.
Nesrine’s lyrics, translated in the well-produced CD booklet, have a poetic, aphoristic quality. “Would the sky take joy in recalling our blunders?” she asks in Fantasy, with its Frisell-style guitar and rootsy circling chords. ”My memories are vague, source of confusion / but it helps me protect myself from illusion,” she sings in Memories. With its earthily funky bass, it reaches a pitch of intensity heightened by the cello improvisation.
The CD cover shows her bowing her skeletal electronic cello with a rose. Nesrine uses traditional sounds in a modern and personal way – it’s a beguiling and lovely album.