Is this really the same Sevara that made the gorgeous album of traditional Uzbek music and modern beats, Yol Bolsin, a few years ago? Many of the same appealing elements abound on Sen, but there’s a considerable move in a modern, Westernised, direction. Sevara Nazarkhan is a young pop star in her native Uzbekistan, deploying her beautiful, swooping voice in a modern setting for the commercial market. But for her first worldwide release in 2003, she worked with French producer Hector Zazou to strike an engaging balance between the musical roots of her native country — the evocative, earthy call of the doutar lute, the gentle beat of the doira frame drum and her yearning, expressive voice — and a satisfying array of discreetly electronic sounds. For the follow up, under the aegis of Russian producer Victor Sologub and the UK’s Bruno Ellingham, she has moulded and massaged the electronic embellishments even further, pushing the delicately-crafted, subtly melodic songs to their absolute limit. Unfortunately, sometimes those songs break under the strain, resulting in a teasing patchwork of ethereal, dreamy (or soporific, depending on your taste) vocalising, scarce hints of Eastern instrumental promise and soulless digital experimentation. But when it does work, the results are highly impressive — on the opener, Korgim Kelar, Sevara delivers a fine impression of Bjork at her elemental best, with the programmed instrumentation giving much needed breathing space to the other elements on the song. And Kuigai pulls off the Yol Bolsin trick of resting Sevara’s plaintive voice and traditional Uzbek instrumentation on a soft, pulsing bed of modern beats. The latter gives the clue to what might be Sen’s failing at times, in that it is one of only two songs on the album not written by Sevra Nazarkhan. By contrast, Yol Bolsin was entirely made up of modern adaptations of traditional songs, in the manner of Kuigai, and the harsh truth might be that Sevara’s song-writing is just not strong enough to survive the more ambitious arrangements here. Therefore, given what a great vocalist Sevara is — and how beautiful her voice sounds when given the space to breathe — Sen has to go down as something of a disappointment in places. But when she gets it right, the results are breathtaking.
This review first appeared on www.flyglobalmusic.com