Amina

Born : 05/03/1962 in Carthage (Tunisia)
Country : France / Tunisia
Language : French / English / Arabic
Category : Composer / Female Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : world music

The Tunisian singer Amina, who rose to fame on the back of the world music explosion in the 1980's, has become a symbol of successful 'métissage', fusing her traditional Arab roots with modern Western dance styles.

The Tunisian singer Amina, who rose to fame on the back of the world music explosion in the 1980's, has become a symbol of successful 'métissage', fusing her traditional Arab roots with modern Western dance styles.

Amina Annabi was born in Carthage, Tunisia, on 5 March 1962. Her parents (French father, Tunisian mother) got divorced while she was still in her early childhood, so Amina was brought up by her mother, a talented musician and composer. Amina was surrounded by music from an early age. Indeed, growing up in Carthage, a veritable melting pot of different styles and cultures, the young girl soon developed an extremely eclectic approach. (Amina's musical tastes ranged from Tina Turner to the legendary Egyptian diva Oum Kalthoum!) Amina's grandmother was also a talented musician and on Sundays the family would often get together at her house to sing a mix of traditional 'Malouf' and Italian variety hits.

Amina was also introduced to the international music scene in her early teens. One of her uncles had been involved in setting up the Tabarka Festival in Tunisia, so Amina got the chance to see a number of legendary music stars, going along to concerts by Joan Baez, James Brown and the famous Algerian diva Warda. It was at the Tabarka music festival that Amina would get to meet the young Senegalese star Wasis Diop - who, at the time, was going through his young "rocker" phase. The pair hit it off immediately and became close friends, going on to work together several years later.

Paris

In 1975 Amina and her mother left Tunisia and settled in France. Amina was just 13 at the time but she was already showing signs of following in her mother's footsteps. The talented youngster excelled at dance and also proved to be a fast learner when it came to singing, training to perform both classical works and traditional Egyptian music. At the age of 16 Amina formed her own group. She and her schoolfriends played a mix of jazz and reggae and acquired a strong following of fans when they performed at local schools. Needless to say, Amina proved to be extremely popular as the group's lead singer.

In the early 80's the French music scene began to open up to a whole range of 'world' influences, discovering African music and sounds from the Arab world. Meanwhile, American rap was also winging its way across the Atlantic. Amina was in the thick of all these musical changes. She became involved with Radio Nova, Paris's leading world music station, where she went on to meet Martin Messonier in 1982. Messonier, a renowned musician and producer, was one of the pioneers of the world music scene in France, helping a number of African artists launch their careers in Paris. Messonier and Amina hit it off immediately. Indeed, they not only went on to work together on Amina's music but the pair also began a personal relationship. (The couple would celebrate the arrival of their daughter, Neik, in 1986).

Amina's career would begin to take off the following year when she won a rap contest organised at Le Palace (the most happening night-club on the Paris scene throughout the 80's). Amina won the contest with a song entitled "Shehérazade", a rap track that incorporated traditional Arab influences. Following Amina's triumph at Le Palace, "Shehérazade" would be released as her first single. Amina went on to prove a big hit on the Paris music scene, where world and fusion sounds were becoming a veritable craze. Indeed, Amina became something of a regular fixture at Le Privilege (the basement club at Le Palace) where she caused a stir with her sultry covers of Billie Holiday numbers.

International Collaboration

Meanwhile, Amina was involved in a series of important collaborations with international music stars. After recording a duet ("Shango") with Afrika Bambaata, one of the founding fathers of hip hop, in 1986 she went on to work with the Japanese musician Yasuaki Shimizu. Amina went into the studio with Shimizu to work on his album "Subliminal" then went on to perform backing vocals on an album by Haruomi Hosano. (Hosano, who is famous for having set up the Yellow Magic Orchestra with Ryuichi Sakamoto, was one of the first musicians to come up with the idea of fusing Oriental-style music with electro synthesiser sounds). Amina's work with Shimizu and Hosano made her a major star in Japan and, bowing to popular demand, the singer performed an extensive tour there in 1987.

Besides being extremely busy on the music scene, Amina also devoted a lot of time to launching a parallel career in the acting world. In 1989 she made her cinematic début, appearing in French director Romain Goupil's film "Maman" (in which she played a supporting role to the famous French actress Anémone). The following year Amina hit cinema screens again, this time in a major international production - Bernardo Bertolucci's film "The Sheltering Sky". Amina only played a minor role in the film (the major stars were John Malkovitch and Debra Winger) but she still managed to win major acclaim from the critics.

Debut Album

In 1990 Amina refocused her attention on her music career, going into the studio to record her debut album "Yahil" (Night). "Yahil" was produced by Amina's partner Martin Messonier who also wrote several songs on the album. (The others were all penned by Amina herself). Amina's old friend Wasis Diop was also involved in the project, writing the musical arrangements for three tracks on "Yahil" including "ma Tisane bout" and "Belly Dance". Amina's debut album featured a rich mix of influences, incorporating the diverse musical styles the singer had come into contact with over the past ten years. Music critics would hail "Yahil" as an accomplished fusion of "ethno-techno".

"Yahil" was released simultaneously in 22 different countries. Amina had already made a name for herself on the international music scene before the release of her first album and the European tour she embarked upon just after the release of "Yahil" only served to confirm her popularity. "Yahil" proved to be a great success. Indeed, in the USA "Yahil" rocketed to n°5 in the 'world music' charts compiled by the famous music magazine Billboard - a feat rarely achieved by an artist singing in French!

On 11 May 1990 Amina brought the house down when she performed in Paris at Le New Morning. Then in November of the same year she went on to give a brief but highly successful series of concerts at the Théâtre de la Ville.

Eurovision

1991 turned out to be the year when everything started happening for Amina. In France Amina won 'Le prix Piaf' as Best Female Singer of the Year, then she went on to get involved in Peter Gabriel's peace project during the Gulf War. Joining a host of international stars in the studio, Amina took part in the recording of an EP which featured an impressive new version of Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance".

But the highlight of Amina's career in 1991 was when she represented France at the Eurovision Song Contest in Rome (on 4 May). Amina impressed TV audiences and the Eurovision judges with her entry "Le dernier qui a parlé" (a song from her album "Yahil" which featured musical arrangements by Wasis Diop). Indeed, the song went down so well that Amina was declared joint winner with the Swedish contestant. However, for some obscure reason the judges would reverse their initial decision, relegating Amina to second place. (Needless to say, the incident caused a minor scandal at the time).

While Amina was obviously disappointed by the Eurovision judges' decision, the mishap did not appear to affect her career, which continued to go from strength to strength over the following months. Towards the end of 1991 Amina would return to the cinema screen, starring in Claude Lelouch's epic "la Belle histoire". Then in 1992 she recorded the soundtrack to Jean-Jacques Beinex's film "IP5" (which starred the legendary French actor Yves Montand in his final role).

Love is Unique

Shortly afterwards Amina returned to the recording studio to begin work on her second album, "Wa di yé" (Love is Unique). The album, which was released at the end of 1992, was co-produced by Amina's old friend Wasis Diop and featured an eclectic mix of guest stars including Nigerian drummer Tony Allen (who played on the track "Salam"), English violinist Nigel Kennedy ("Mammou Ayni"), Tunisian accordionist Zouhir Gouja ("Ezzayakoum" and "Atame") and the French arranger Joseph Racaille ("A l'abri des portes").

Amina's second album proved to be a big hit with the critics as well as the record-buying public and, following the success of "Wa di yé", the singer embarked upon an extensive international tour. One of the highlights of this tour was Amina's run at the Folies Bergères in Paris in May 1993.

Later that same year Amina returned to the cinema screen, starring in Nicolas Klotz's film "La Nuit sacrée". For the first time in her career Amina got to play the lead female role opposite Spanish star Miguel Bosé. In 1993 Amina landed another major role in "The Hour of the Pig" (a film shot by the English director Leslie Megahey). She also starred in Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky's film "Ulysse", which was shot in Turkey and broadcast (exclusively) on American television.

In 1994 turned her attention to her singing career once more when Malcolm McLaren (the UK musician notorious for 'discovering' the Sex Pistols), invited her to guest on his CD album "Paris". McLaren's album, which paid tribute to the French capital and its charms, featured contributions from a host of famous French stars including Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Hardy.

In the mid-90's Amina disappeared from the media spotlight, taking a temporary break from her hectic acting and recording schedule to rediscover her homeland and spend time with her family.

Musical Travels

Amina spent the following two years hard at work on her next album "Annabi" (her family surname) which was finally released in April '99, together with a new single "Dis-moi pourquoi". As was the case with Amina's previous albums, "Annabi" featured a rich fusion sound, the singer playing with eclectic musical influences which she had picked up on trips to London, New York, Mali and the Middle East. The sweeping violin orchestrations on "Annabi", which reflected strong Middle Eastern influences, were particularly in evidence on the album's two cover versions - Christophe's "Les Mots bleus" (which Amina performed with the singer himself) and the Billie Holiday classic "My Man".

Amina returned to the stage in the spring of 2000 to take part in a special fund-raising concert for "la Chaîne de l'espoir" (a charity that flies children over from Third World countries for operations and hospital treatment in France). Amina and some 20 other female singers joined the concert's organiser, French reggae star Princess Erika, at La Cigale in Paris for a special one-off show on March 8th. The concert proved such a hit with the public that the girls got together again one year later to perform in concert and film a video clip.

Amina flew out to the States in July 2001 to perform at the "Vive la World!" festival alongside other French groups such as Ekova and Lo'Jo. The "Vive la World!" tour involved five dates in four different towns: Detroit (July 14th), New York (July 15th), Washington (July 17th and 18th) and Los Angeles (July 21st).

Meanwhile, Amina continued to juggle her touring and recording commitments with her acting career. In 2000 she appeared in Jérôme de Missolz's film "La Mécanique des femmes" and the following year she starred in Farid Fedjer's film "Philosophale".

July 2001

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