Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan's first album on Peter Gabriel's RealWorld label, Yol Bolsin, was a stunning collaboration with ambient wizard Hector Zazou, a perfect marriage between contemporary studio trickery and traditional ethnic instruments and melodies. Sevara accompanies herself on the 15th century doutar, a two-stringed lute, while 5 years of conservatory studies at Tashkent State and classical musician parents have shaped her artistic sensibilities to accompany her safely on her musical explorations.
Her 2007 RealWorld follow-up delves deeper into the urban scene as perhaps the eye-brow piercing of the cover photo already indicated. With an 8-deep formation of Uzbeks behind her, Sen no longer relies on Zazou but in how the blend of tradition and modernity is handled, is the earlier album's equal. Simultaneously, it advances the Ethnic Ambient concept, with Victor Sologub and Bruno Ellingham on the production helm. The truly admirable trick is how the ethnic half of the equation doesn't suffer. Even though the arrangements are more densely layered, slicker, with overdubbed harmonizing and more overt techno ingredients, Sen feels less pop than much of Yulduz Usmanova even though technically, it's quite heavy on electronica.
I'd go as far as predicting that Nazarkhan has the talent and vision to achieve for her country's music what Mercan Dede and Cheb i Sabbah have done for theirs - introduce Western audiences to authentic foreign fare presented in a groovy fashion that doesn't borrow sound bytes to perk up Euro Pop but approaches things from the other end; with an insider's understanding and appreciation of a foreign culture. It's all there, the craft, the intelligence, the good taste. Tanbur, kobuz bass, nai and doina represent the deep Asian timbres; synths and bass guitar the club and lounge vibe. On Sen, Sevara's voice is deliberately used as more of just another instrument instead of center-stage soloist. "Becoming part of the sound rather than standing in front of it" is how AllMusic scribe Chris Nickson complains about this very choice. I find it particularly attractive. Based on chart success, so did many others.
If you fancy down-tempo atmospheric fare from the Silk Road; lithe exotic vocals with poetic lyrics in a foreign language you likely don't understand; then Sen should have your name all over it. It's hard to decide but I think on balance, this album is even better than Yol Bolsin. Seeing the latter won one of our awards, it's that time again. Brilliant stuff!