Armed with the understanding that Emel is Tunisian born and now living in one of the most mystical places in the world, New York, it seems there will already be a story to unfold and spirit to watch dance. From a young girl, she knew that she had a remarkable amount to say, much to share politically about the injustices she witnessed in her homeland and realised that her extraordinary voice would be her legacy, a method to connect with the planet. She often sings of peace in a harmonised world, and this has added to her appeal in many nations.
October 23rd delivers the experimental performer’s new album, The Tunis Diaries, which is a two-part creation named Day and Night, released through Partisan Records. Day features a collection of reworks from the writer’s back catalogue, and an assortment of covers is gathered together in Night. Simplicity was in order, as she was quarantined unexpectedly in her childhood home this spring; with only a laptop, tape recorder, and a classical guitar to hand, she created her LP exploring the complexity of her connection with her homeland.
“For me, this is an intimate project that captures how I passed a big portion of my confinement. It ended up being much deeper than I would have ever imagined, and a unique journey with my father and my daughter that taught me a lot about myself, family, and giving. It is also a tribute to my home city Tunis, that gave me so much. This is an effort to give my city and fans the sense of togetherness that they shared with me during those confusing and scary times.” Emel illustrates.
For now, two singles have been shared to entice the listener: an original song named Holm and cover The Man Who Sold The World by one-off David Bowie. Sung in Arabic, a number of people may not understand the lyrics of Holm, and this is of no consequence as they can feel them throughout their soul. In English, opening lines translate to a poetic cry: “If I could close my eyes and the dreams take me by the hand, I would rise and fly in a new sky, and I will forget my sorrows.” Nostalgically sad, the tender number rises and builds tentatively to greet the backing vocals. It grows in intensity and force until the acapella ending. The video is black and white. Unfussy. Pure. Emel sings with the backdrop of buildings behind. It’s altogether moving.
Nirvana had their turn, why not Emel. We know how tricky it can be to cover a song, let alone an authentically classic adored by scores, yet she flourishes with Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World. Different pace, different key, but just as worthy. This version pulled my thoughts to the Tarantino Kill Bill films, and I believed it would sit well on the soundtrack. Lots of dramatic pauses create a cinematic score. This voice has otherworldly qualities, but it has purpose and cause and requires to be heard.
Article by Beverley Knight