We spoke to Amira Kheir about life, origins, destinations and love. Her debut album View from Somewhere is a stunning set infused with many influences but anchored in the sounds and identity of her parents’ homeland Sudan.
“I was born in Italy and grew up primarily between there and Sudan. Growing up in this way (between the two countries) deeply affected me and shaped much of who I am and how I see the world. I feel very connected to my two homes but as a result of identifying with the idea of home as more than just a single place it has imbued me with a sense of belonging to all the world and of feeling connected to people everywhere.
Boundaries are the edges of established knowledge and that’s why creating in boundaries is infinitely interesting and exciting – it challenges the establishment
“I moved to London when I was 18 and still today it is a city that continues to surprise and delight me. London is the perfect place for anyone interested in the merging nature of things – whether it be music, people or culture. When I first moved to London I was studying at SOAS and that was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It compelled me to stay and pursue my dream of making music.
“When I was growing up music was always playing in my house. My parents always played Sudanese music – being far from their country it was their way remembering and being reunited with Sudan, through the music. So Sudanese music was a big feature of my life growing up – and I could really see how it affected my parents and brought them back home. Sudanese music can be very nostalgic and very emotional – just like Sudanese people! And so the music can express everything, even what society doesn’t allow depending on shifting ideologies or changing culture. That is why music is so important in Sudanese society.
“In addition, my father had an old record player from his days as a student in the 60s in America and I used to love playing the records of his time – Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Miriam Makeba. That stuff really jumped at me and spoke volumes about the struggles and life of the era of my parents which I was (and still am) very interested in. So I grew up with a rather disparate cocktail of musical influences!
“Like most people away from home, I am happy and feel warmed when meeting people from my country because there is something very intimate and primordial that we share with each other, even if we’ve never met. I am not nationalistic or patriotic in any way, but home for me is simply the extension of my family and so I am happy to meet others who have that same reference point. Especially now that I am living here in London and performing a lot I find great joy when Sudanese people are in the audience and are receptive to the music. It’s a beautiful way for us to connect.”
Perhaps the most fruitful, if challenging, place to create art is on the boundaries between things.
“I couldn’t agree more! Boundaries are the edges of established knowledge and that’s why creating in boundaries is infinitely interesting and exciting – it challenges the establishment. As boundaries keep changing so do normative perceptions and so art has the unique ability to continue to question, no matter what the status quo of the moment. I think to be an artist is not about what you do but about your approach is to life.
Our growth as people is what defines us and our art is a natural consequence of that
“It’s about documenting the beauty of life – whether it’s pain, suffering, love, joy or emancipation – it’s all beauty and being an artist means seeing life through that prism and expressing that through your craft. It is an ability we each have inside and that’s why I think all human beings are artists, whether we then act upon it and pursue a “career” in something creative or artistic is almost immaterial.
“With respect to my album it has been such a discovery to create music in this place, which exists in between places. This place, which once was just imagination now exists and is validated by that which is created in it. And that’s the beauty of music – it allows us to give life to things that cannot be marred by definition or order.”
Can you tell us more about the journey to find your own voice both in the music you create and the lyrics you write?
“That journey is never ending! I have so much to learn and every day that passes I am different from the day before because of everything I experience and as a result my voice and my music grow. Our growth as people is what defines us and our art is a natural consequence of that.”
You have set up your own Record Label. Why did you choose to go down that route and what is the role of Sterns Music in the release?
“The music industry has changed so much since the days of labels owning and directing everything. Today artists are able to have so much more control of the ‘means of production’ of their music. It’s a great thing. Setting up my own label (Contro Cultura Music) meant that I had to do everything myself, and so the challenges were much bigger but the rewards are also much bigger. I have been very lucky to collaborate with Sterns as they are fantastic guys with so many years of experience and are really in it for the love of the music. Their role is to supply my album to shops all around the world.”