Manara, the Arabic word for light or beacon, is the aptly titled second album by Brooklyn-based band Alsarah & the Nubatones, and the name rings true on numerous levels. The brilliance of the carefully woven instrumentation, the illumination of styles that unfortunately aren’t heard enough outside Alsarah’s native Sudan, and the attraction, the bringing together of sounds both old and new.
Hailing from Khartoum originally, but forced to flee to nearby Yemen after a military coup, and again once civil war gripped that country in 1994, Alsarah blends together her inspirations from across her life journey, mating musical styles from different regions, and mixing traditional music with avant-garde futurism.
‘Salam Nubia’ begins the album by luring the listener in with a gentle crescendo of strings and percussion, with Alsarah’s crystal clear voice poured over it all, then builds up with a bass line to take the song to its natural rhythm. The group’s lead single, ‘Ya Watan’, is enveloping and hypnotic with its progression, as traditional and electronic instruments coalesce over sombre lyrics about the longing to return home. Throughout all, Manara is truly a masterclass in organic musical fusion, as the jazz and blues undertones of ‘Nar’, fit perfectly alongside the pop-folky vibes of ‘3roos Elneel’. One can in the same instance feel transported across time and space while linked to the unshakable familiarity of great music that transcends all.