London is a vibrant scene for music, and especially for young artists who move their first steps on the music world. Among the many, there is a young singer and composer who has an interesting mix of origin, culture and production.
I meet Amira Kheir in a noisy joint next to South Bank Centre, a cluster of buildings housing cultural events, from music to painting. “My parents are both Sudanese, and I was born in Italy – she says. I feel Sudanese because I grew up surrounded by that culture. I often went there to visit family and friends. I even lived in Sudan for a short while. Yet, I also feel Italian; I was born there and lived in Turin”.
Amira left Italy when she was 18. “At the time I left Italy I felt there were too many closed doors for me. I felt society was closed for me. I also felt a little stuck in a very classical society, where innovation seems a little difficult. I came to London to study, but also I wanted to a place that would reflect more all the differences present in me. I needed a space where to meet challenges that could mirror my life and experience. London seemed perfect”. In London, she started writing music. Music has been a part of her life since childhood. “I grew up listening to my parent’s tapes. I heard jazz, soul, reggae, African and Middle-Eastern music. All these influences are present in my music. The essence however is Sudanese; at least this is how I hear it”.
I had just heard one of her gig a few nights before, so I was curious about her Sudanese music since she was the only African on stage. “The other night I played with a Venezuelan, a Japanese and two Colombians. The formation of that particular set up is quite international. But this is London. We met here and started to play and sing together. Even though I am the only Sudanese, I still feel that my music, at this point, is still true to the primary intention I had when I started: to explore Sudanese music through many media”.
Indeed, Amira’s music heavily sources melodies and rhythms from the great Sudanese musical tradition. It is also obvious that there is a strong influx from Sufi music. When I ask her about it, she admits that “music is a spiritual reality for me. It is not just an influence, it is the whole thing. When I play music I feel connected spiritually. The way I experience music is absolutely spiritual”. But then she refuses to go deeper in what she means, afraid perhaps to be dragged on a religious confrontation.
She is more talkative about how she perceives her role as a musician. “I would like to bring people together, bring people to share life. I feel music is what can allow us to do that. We are all struggling, loving, experiencing, growing, learning. A beautiful part of life is when people come together and share. Music is a great way to bring people together. So far my experience has been great. I enjoy seeing people who came to listen to my music, leaving with a smile. Often they wait for me to ask questions about my music, what my aims are. They show interest and seek rapport”.
This young artist is also aware that music could take her down unexpected paths. She realizes that music does not always pay back in life. One needs time to build up experience and it takes time before an artist can draw conclusions on her own musical growth. “When you write a song, the song is there, but the progression of one’s carrier is difficult to measure. I need to have more exposure, to develop as an artist, discover new things. Only then I shall know how far I went, says she”. So far, her Italian side does not show up in her songs, but who knows, sooner or later the roots she shares with the country of the Bel Canto may spring up new boughs.
Amira Kheir, Views from Somewhere, Contro Cultura Music, Sterns distribution, 2011.