The Mother of Exile: From Night to the Edge of Day
‘I discovered that lullabies are so much more than just musical and rhythmic tools to soothe a child. They are in fact a powerful medium by which a mother can send direct messages to her child about life, nature, joy, pain, love, beauty, etc.’
I own a lot of recorded music and I hear a lot of music on top of that. There’s music I like and music I like a lot. Different types of music, different albums, have different purposes; some are to fill up the silence while you focus on some work or study, some are for celebration and dancing, some are for quiet chilling. Some are to make you feel in touch with the cutting edge of our culture and we pretend to like them, even if we don’t really. You’ll know if you have those by how many times you’ve consciously chosen them in the last year!
There have been a handful of albums over the years that, for me, somehow fly high above all of that. There’s a quality of musicianship that puts them in a different class but also they touch something beyond the mere carnal, beyond shallow surface emotion. The Lost Souls by Niraj Chag, or Digital Prophecy by Dhafer Youssef are in this category for me. Sublime, spiritual, transcendent.
Well, another one’s just come along. From Night to the Edge of Day is the latest release from Iranian American singer, Azam Ali. I’ve been a fan for a few years, having heard her work in various projects including on some stunning albums from the band Niyaz. This new album is essentially a collection of lullabies from across the Middle East – Iranian, Turkish, Lebanese, and Kurdish, mostly traditional but including one (Faith) written spontaneously by Palestinian oud player, Naser Musa, for Azam Ali‘s son after discussing the project with her.
The project grew organically, in response to the birth of her son; she sang to him spontaneously on the night he was born and the melody eventually became the song Tenderness. Other songs evolved from Farsi texts of traditional lyrics brought by friends, and classic favourite lullabies from across the region.
‘To do this project, I worked with Kurds, Azeris, a Palestinian Christian, Iranians from all over,’ recounts Ali. ‘You could write a book about each one of them, about their difficulties in life and their diaspora. It was a profound experience for me as person.’ Despite oppression, war, and exile, Ali heard ‘hope and the belief that good will always come out in the end’ in the traditional songs and in the musical contributions of her friends.
The album opens with Noor (The Light in my Eyes), a drone and a beautiful Eastern-inflected melody with some subtle harmonising lines. It reminds me of European plainchant, otherwordly, ethereal. The second track, Dandini, a Turkish traditional tune, features a frame drum and some distant, elusive instruments playing behind a very filmic vocal melody. Nami Nami follows, with some beautiful microtonal violin improvisation, before being joined by a goblet drum and an ensemble of other instruments. Once again, I’m struck by the similarity in feel to pre-classical European music. I absolutely love this tune. Neni Desem follows, a rarely heard Turkish traditional lullaby and then Shirin (or Shrin, depending on which part of the cover art you’re reading…), a song from the Azeris of Iran. Once again, it is reminiscent of an Elizabethan courtly dance tune and the tempo picks up slightly from previous tunes. Azam Ali has deliberately chosen songs from minorities in the region as a way to call for peace and an end to conflict. Mehman (The Guest) is based on the aforementioned Farsi texts, gorgeous strings slowly swelling over a drone, the vocal remaining delicate as it explores a beautiful melodic mode, evocatively Eastern, before fading to the drone once more for the ending. Then we’re into the bouncy and Arabic-flavoured Faith. Azam Ali duets with composer Naser Musa on this superb tune. Tenderness, Ali‘s own tune, follows, multitracked voices building layers of atmosphere over a drone; not sure why but this actually reminds me of the good bits of Clannad from back in the day. Lai Lai comes from the Iraqi Kurdish community and features the beautifully played frame drums featured on many of the tracks on this album. It’s a short tune, followed by the last and shortest song on on the album, Faith (Reprise). In this reprise, the oud is more upfront in the mix and once again we hear Naser Musa‘s voice interweaving with Azam Ali‘s as the song slowly fades to silence and the end of the album.
This album is genuinely beautiful, peace-filled and exquisitely performed. Sublime, spiritual, transcendent.