Arabic Grooves of Alsarah & The Nubatones in Asheville

Sudanese singer Alsarah and her band the Nubatones will bring their unique blend of Eastern instrumentation, soaring vocal melodies, and pentatonic arrangements to Asheville September 10 at the UNC-Asheville’s Lipinsky Auditorium.  Called “The New Star Of Nubian Pop” by The Guardian, it’s music that harkens back to the hazy sounds of 1960s and 70s Nubian music, described by Alsarah as “East African Retro Pop”. Wonderwheel Recordings is proud to present the debut album, Silt, which the band while perform live.

Alsarah, is a Sudanese born singer, songwriter and ethnomusicologist. Born in the capital city of Khartoum, where she spent the first 8 years of her life, she relocated to Taez, Yemen with her family to escape the ever stifling regime in her native country. She abruptly moved to the US in 1994, when a brief civil war broke out in Yemen. Now residing in Brooklyn, NY, she is a self-proclaimed practitioner of East-African retro-pop. Working on various projects, she most recently has been working with The Nile Project and was featured on their debut release, Aswan (named 1 of the Top 5 “Must Hear” international albums by NPR). She has also collaborated with French producer Débruit on the album Aljwal, released this past November via Soundway Records UK.

The Nubatones started out as dinner conversation between Alsarah and percussionist Rami El Aasser in his living room, digging thru archives of old music from North Africa, and reading about migration patterns in modern day Nubia, Soon the conversation opened into a musical one and spread to include master Oud player and Luthier Haig Manoukian and bass player Mawuena Kodjovi. With a collective love for pentatonic music and a common understanding of what it means to be an immigrant, the group went on to perform both nationally and internationally at prestigious venues such as The Kennedy Center, The Apollo Music Cafe, Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park, The World Music festival in Chicago, and the Festival du Mond Arab in Montreal just to name a few.

The debut album, Silt, has it’s musical roots in the Nubian “Songs of Return” that began to spring up after mass displacement and resettlement of hundreds of thousands in a region of lower Nubia that went under water after Egypt built Aswan High Dam to control the flooding of the Nile in 1970. The focus of these songs, both thematically and lyrically is about a return to home and the beauty of home and embodies a certain kind of saudade – a nostalgic longing for a place that no longer exists. The album encompasses Alsarah and her band’s musical curiosities in the concept of migration and Silt is their take on this mixed with the musical fusion happening in 1970s Khartoum, along with Arabic and North African influences appearing in the mix.

Listen to “Silt” in full

Opening Act: UNC Asheville Afropop Ensemble

The UNCA Afropop Ensemble covers a variety of African popular musics from the 1950s, ‘60s and 70s, from Ghana to Ethiopia to the Congo to Zimbabwe, seeking new ways of hearing and understanding this diverse collection of musical practices, through playing.


Master Class

Friday, Sept. 11, 12:30pm | Lipinsky Auditorium
free & open to the public

A 60min workshop on Nubian Music and Culture after the building of the high-dam. We will spend part of the class going over Nubian rhythms and melodies. And we will also discuss the affects of modernization and the dam on Nubian music specifically the birth of the genre of ‘songs of return’.

(Photo by Nousha Salimi)

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