If anyone was in doubt about the highly distinctive purity, quality and class of Bosnia’s foremost female singing sensation Amira, then her new album Amulettewill put paid to their uncertainty. This third studio album represents a marked leap forward from her lauded earlier works and shows a singer who has grown in confidence, ability and audience. Amira is a world-class artist at the top of her game.
Sarajevo-born Amira Medunjanin has already proven that she is a dab hand at sevdah, the long-established Bosnian singing style that characteristically recounts tales of longing, love and loss. With three impressive albums, she has carved her name in the stone annals of the genre and received widespread plaudits for taking the rich heritage of sevdah and moulding it into her own fresh and distinctive forms.
Amira’s breathtaking debut album Rosa confidently placed the first stake in the ground, achieving critical acclaim and sales success that allowed her to be mentioned among the undisputed great vocalists. But Amira is not one to rest back on her laurels. She would not be content to churn out carbon-copy albums just to satisfy a career that could tick over nicely. She is an artist with vision, ambition and drive, a singer who strives to approach these age-old songs from interesting new angles and deliver something new with each release.
Since that debut album, Amira has shown herself to be a charismatic performer who can take a traditional song and lead it down a road less travelled. For her second album, Zumra, Amira joined forces with accordionist Merima Ključo to produce an experience that was more idiosyncratic and less obvious than her debut, but none the less hypnotic or accomplished in its quality. If that album set the standard for a more daring and uncompromising career, then it is with an inspired collaboration with award-winning Serbian jazz musician Bojan Z that Amira has again broken brave new ground for her latest work, Amulette.
The result is a magnificent album of ten traditional songs from Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia. Blending established tunes with jazz stylings, Amira and Bojan have been respectful to the integrity and character of the songs, while spinning them in a far more jazz-toned style than on her preceding works.
Accomplished pianist Bojan is a perfect partner for Amira, which is most effectively evidenced by his impressive keyboard skills counterpointing but never crowding her melancholic tones. Together they are respectful of the space between the sounds, allowing their songs room to breath, to have a life of their own.
Thankfully, this project is far removed from the graceless pairings of some artists that so often result in culture clash rather than elegant fusion. Indeed, at times it seems entirely inspired and natural that Amira’s rich tones should be embraced by jazz stylings.
Amira is a rare singers who can command the attention of anyone in earshot. Like a melancholy angel, her voice can breathe new life into old and familiar songs. At times powerful and soaring, while at others sounding almost fragile, Amira is a stop-you-in-your-tracks singer whose talent transcends tradition, culture or language. Her voice speaks directly to the soul, appeals to the spirit and stops the clock for a moment or two.
As anyone who has been fortunate to see Amira perform live will testify, she can astound with the beauty of her tone, or bring a lump to the throat with the emotion she imparts in every line that she sings. In London this summer, Amira equally filled the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral as she stunned the 100-strong audience in the intimate St Ethelburga’s hall. Her strong rapport with Bojan was clear, too.
Bosnia has found a voice to stand among the greats of jazz and blues. It does not stretch credulity to imagine that the greatest among those, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, would have taken great pleasure from this album.
In Amulette (released 3 October by (World Village/Harmonia Mundi), Amira has once again produced an album worthy of her immense talent and winning character that can sit proudly alongside the body of her work. There can not be any dispute: Amira is not just a Bosnian singer. She is a world-class artist.