Lullabies from the Axis of Evil
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Lullabies from the Axis of Evil
Kirkelig Kulturverksted (www.kkv.no)

cd cover Following up from the EP of 5 Lullabies that KKV issued about a year ago, here is the complete project. This is everything the EP was, and more. The songs are better, the Western interpreters are better known (among them personal favorites such as Eddi Reader, Sarah Jane Morris and Lila Downs) and the interpreters from the "Axis of Evil" are outstanding.

Knut Reiersrud has done a wonderful job on arranging the songs. All of them allow the interpreters to deliver performances of true character and passion within a unified context that does justice to both the (mostly) Arabic and Western modes of singing. It is wonderful and rare to be able to bring together those distinct cultures without imposing one over the other and Reiersrud creates a unified musical vision.

Listen!
Stars are Rising
The Western interpreters are, in many cases, in their best form. Eddi Reader, in particular, found a perfect musical double in Sun Ju Lee from North Korea and they both deliver the best song of the record, "Stars are Rising." I hadn't heard of Sarah Jane Morris for some years but she offers another great song, in co-operation with Mahsa Vahdat from Iran. Lila Downs sings a lullaby from Afghanistan and thus allows us to listen to another aspect of her wonderful voice. Mimi, Eva Dahlgren, Kari Bremnes (who also featured on the EP), Elana Fremerman, Annisette and Sevara Nazarkhan and Katia Cardenal complete the roster of artists from the "us" world.

It is the "them" interpreters, however, that really shine. Two or three songs into the record you suddenly realize that you are listening to some amazing singers and songs of incredible power and beauty. You have to turn to the pictures, to put a face to the voices, and there they are smiling or shying away from the camera, fourteen women who we are meant to consider either The Enemy or (condescendingly enough) the Poor Oppressed People who are just Asking to be Liberated by Us. I see instead 14 women who remind me of mothers and sisters, wives and girlfriends. They have things in common with the Western interpreters, although the publicity shots used for the latter play around with your head, screaming out stereotypes to you: "I am happy," "I am playful," "I am strong," "I am smart," "I am thoughtful," "I've seen a lot in my life," "I am young." You look back at the Eastern interpreters. Their pictures offer other stories: "I am a storyteller but I am also happy. Oh, and I am also a grandmother." "I am chic and educated and love a good time and enjoyed very much being part of this record." "I am tired and don't want to expose myself in camera, please." You realize that the stories they have to tell are richer, less prone to stereotyping. You return to listening to the record with renewed interest and you pay more attention to their stories. You feel fulfilled and uplifted and your focus has moved away from having done a good deed to having a good time and to being very happy with discovering amazing singers and wonderful songs. It is at this point where it's worth reading the booklet to learn how Erik Hillested embarked upon this project which he considers a "life-changing experience." It sounds like it and by the end of the record you feel equally uplifted and happy, relaxed and serene.

While not every song on the record is successful (I am afraid Nina Hagen was not the perfect choice), the overall sense is of utter happiness, great musicality and the desire to tear down borders and throw away stereotypes. In this way, it certainly is a very successful project, worth discovering for yourself. - Nondas Kitsos

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