Amina Alaoui is a vocalist, pianist, and composer steeped in the history of Andalusian music, the fusion of Arab, Spanish, Persian, and Portuguese styles that evolved in the courts of Moorish Spain in the ninth century. Her intent, stated poetically in the album's liner notes, is to use the fusion of styles that flourished centuries ago as the foundation for a modern music without boundaries. Arco Iris translates as rainbow, a metaphor for the way the musics of the Iberian Peninsula and Northern Africa blend into and color each other. Alaoui, and the five musicians that accompany her, produce a powerful, contemplative sound that stirs deep feeing with its deliberate tempos and intricate instrumental work. Still, the main focus remains Alaoui's soulful, passionate vocals. They take up an immense emotional space, reminding listeners of the limited range of most pop music. The record opens with "Hado" (Fate), a chilling solo performance that shows Alaoui's vocal range and masterful control as she slides up and down the scale adding ornamentations to her vocal lines. "Búscate en Mí" (Seek Yourself Within Me) is a poem by Saint Teresa of Avila set to Alaoui's music. The solemn instrumental work of violinist Saïfalla Ben Abderrazak and oud player Sofiane Negra set the stage for Alaoui's understated vocal. "Fado Al-Mu'tamid" and "Fado Al-Mu'tamid" feature the mandolin of Eduardo Miranda, who adds a Brazilian lilt to his accompaniment that lets Alaoui dig deep into the melancholy of the songs. "Oh Andaluces" (Oh Andalusians) may be the most emotional song on the record, featuring Alaoui's stunningly emotional vocals accompanied only by José Luis Montón's smoldering flamenco guitar. With the exception of "Las Morillas de Jaén" (Moorish Girls of Jaén), a midtempo tune marked by Montón's dramatic flamenco guitar and Idriss Agnel's inventive percussion accents, and the driving Andalusian workout of "Ya Laylo Layl," the tunes here are taken at a measured tempo that serves to accent their emotional weight.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet