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Born in 1959 into a 10-headed family in Burundi, a small African nationality between Congo and Tanzania, Khadja Nin married early and had a child but then suffered the premature loss of her husband after her small family had moved to Europe. After five years of intense struggling to survive in a foreign country as a single mother, she eventually met musician/producer Nicolas Fiszman whose songs appear on albums by Charlie Mariano, Geoffrey Onyemo, Cheb Mami, Nourith and Simon Shaheen and whose guitar and bass can be heard on productions by performers as varied as Andy, Judith Berart, Benjamin Biolay, Black & Blue, Philip Catherine, Celtus, Dissidenten, Christian Escoude and Trilok Gurtu.

In 1991, this artistic duo signed their first recording contract with BMG to release Khadja's eponymous debut. Ya Pili followed in 1994 as their second collaboration. During my recent trip to the German fatherland, I was lucky to spot it, instantly recognizing Khadja from her fourth, year 2000 album Ya released on Ark21 [810062] which, unlike her earlier work, was readily available in the US. Worldwide success for the African singer came in 1996 when the French TV channel TF1 selected her third album Sambolera as their summer act with multiple daily broadcasts. This risky publicity stunt proved fortuitously timed and helped sell close to a half-million copies.

Singing in French, Swahili and Kirundi, Khadja Nin's soulful lyrics and politically astute themes join the sophisticated chorus-rich tunesmithing of Nicolas Fiszman to combine Afro-Pop and occasional Latin styles with an often Sting-reminiscent flair for catchy yet complex arrangements. Those lend an instant cosmopolitan air well beyond the singer's African roots to, for example, work Toots Thielemans' magical harmonica into the closing "La Ballade de Gilles et Shana".

Like a long lazy river whose waters have travelled many a mile through many desert terrains to carry with it impressions of hardships and loneliness, Khadja's low smoky voice has clearly been tempered by deep sadness. This confers to all it touches a sense of poise and regal depth that surfaces even on bouncy tracks like "African Cooperation" with its funky syncopated Rap chorus interludes and wailing sax over dense drums.

It makes Khadja closer to Cesaria Evora's bluesy mourna than Angélique Kidjo's high-energy power funk but belongs into the same rare category of global divaship. Think glorious harmonizing and tonal colors of rich ocres and burgundies, all enveloped by Fiszman's uncanny knack for chart-topping melodies and suave settings. Though by now 10 years old, Ya Pili is well worth locating and, just like the later Ya, a no-filler proposition for all lovers of deeply emotional African Soul music.