Sonia M'Barek
Tunesia: Takht
World Network

Sonia M'Barek began singing maluf - traditional Tunisian court music - as a child under the tutelage of her grandmother. Its affinity with like styles in Algeria, Libya and Morocco voices the music's historical origins in southern Andalusia, before the Reconquest drove Muslims and Jews from Spain in 1492. Many of the exiles settled in the medinas of North Africa, bringing their musical heritage. Maluf was and remains primarily a male domain, making Sonia M'Barek a rare female soloist of the genre. She trained in the Tunis conservatory, and has performed widely in Tunisia and the neighboring Maghreb. While rooted in the traditional maluf repertoire, M'Barek steps beyond it by delving into the sharqi or cabaret music (the so-called "belly dance") of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. She also pens many of her own compositions, and collaborates with younger artists who repudiate the commercial formulas of popular pan-Arabic music. Not yet 30, M'Barek possesses a smoky, soul-piercing voice that resonates with the euphoric, transcendental quality singers strive to project and listeners esteem - tarab, in the Arabic. This studio recording deftly pairs M'Barek with a small classical chamber orchestra (takht) of oud, kementché, ney, qanoun, violin, violoncello and percussion. The result is a passionate contemporary exposition of the Iberian, North African and Levantine musical nexus, one audibly rooted in medieval Andalusia. - Michael Stone

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