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Khadja Nin
Label: Ark 21


Quick - name a singer from Burundi.

To be fair, last week I couldn't name one either. This week, I'm listening to Khadja Nin's fourth album Ya. While she credits Miriam Makeba as her mentor, it's perhaps more telling that Nin, from a tiny country squished between Tanzania and Zaire, collaborates with Howard Jones and Sting's guitarist Dominic Miller.

The resulting arrangements are smooth and atmospheric╬not unlike Sade, but not really like her either. The blend of instruments and styles keeps the songs fresh, from the slow groove of the first track, "Mama," to "Damu Ya Salaam" (a cover of Sting's "The Russians" rewritten to capture the tension of the Gulf War), to the growly guitar rock of the final cut Shadow Man.

Like many African artists, her songs tend towards social and political issues, but with a melodic sweetness that keeps them from sounding like diatribes. Other songs are about the loss of her sister and her husband, the equality of all people, and African unity. And "Mzee Mandel"a is a touching tribute to the South African leader: "Our father Nelson Mandela/Old Madiba/üEven if your memories/Are colored with sadness/Gradually your people/Are learning to live together."

If you like Sting, Angelique Kidjo, and maybe Sade╬or if you just want to find out more about the state of Burundi's music╬check this one out.

©Scott Stevens--2/28/01

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