(via Emel Mathlouthi)
"A stark figure in red and black, Emel Mathlouthi walked on to slowly building, ambient noise. A drummer gently worked his kit while a keyboardist pressed keys and twisted knobs to create a sound that’s perhaps best characterized as foreboding. Mathlouthi, who rose to prominence a few years ago when her songs were adopted by the Arab Spring protesters, is on her first U.S. tour and made a stop at CSPS Hall on Friday, September 19 as part of the 2014 Landfall World Music Festival.
Like her musical influences Bjork, Massive Attack, and previous collaborator, Tricky, Mathlouthi’s music carries a sense of looming danger. Songs start with a beat, often played on electronic drum pads, while violins and other sounds from her native Tunisia are layered on top as each song builds to a towering crescendo. This is to say nothing of Mathlouthi’s voice, which was at times whispered and ethereal, and in those climactic moments, truly soaring — it felt as if her vocal range was without limits.
Midway through her set, Mathlouthi and her band introduced “Houdou’on (Calm)”, which like many of her songs, is beautifully ominous, and deals with the “silence hanging over Arab countries.” A few songs later Mathlouthi jumped into a song whose title translates into “Freedom” and which features a skittering drum beat and lyrics with a highly accusatorial tone. However, the night’s standout moments involved only Mathlouthi and her electric guitar. Her bandmates left the stage for chill-inducing covers of Bjork’s “All is Full of Love” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the latter of which ranks as one of the most gorgeous moments I’ve experienced at a concert. For an encore, her band remained in the wings as she performed her most famous song, and the one that was adopted by Tunisian revolutionaries, “Kelmti Horra (My Word is Free).” Her final song was a gypsy tune that she dedicated to the Palestinian people and which she sung a cappella. The audience, which sat in rapt silence all evening, sent Mathlouthi off with a standing ovation.
Credit to Legion Arts for bringing this enchanting and essential artist to Landfall Festival 2014. Mathlouthi’s sound borrows from tradition and infuses it with forward-thinking electronica in a manner that excites the ears and the mind. It’s her voice and her words, however, that excite the heart.”