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By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

Saturday, December 5, 2013.

Yes, who is Ahmed Sirour? There’s not much I know about the background of this emerging artist except what I hear in his music and what I glean from snippets of info on diverse internet sources. His father is from the Sudan and his mother is of Barbados heritage. Sirour started late as a professional musician. He had actually been working in the corporate world but resigned to try his hand at the arts.

Ahmed Sirour is literally a self-taught keyboardist as well as a formally trained audio engineer (on the basis of his audio resume he was able to enter a master level engineering program in London that did not require a bachelor’s degree).

What attracted me to Sirour was an anomaly—very few of his peers, indeed, I would say almost none of his peers, specialize in either acoustic piano work or in focusing on the genre of ballads, which used to be called “mood music.” Sirour excels as both an instrumentalist and a quiet storm music producer.

If you listen to the mainstream radio you will seldom hear pop songs that are acoustic piano driven. Scratch “driven”; you will seldom hear an acoustic piano period. Those who used to be “pianists” are today identified as “keyboardists,” as in so-and-so “on keys.” The majority of the sounds are electronically produced, not acoustic.

While I do not believe that acoustic sounds are inherently superior to electronic sounds, I do understand that they are different disciplines. For example, most acoustic keyboards are touch sensitive while the physical keys on electronic keyboards are simply on/off devices. On the majority of keyboards audio dynamics is controlled by twisting a knob, pushing a lever, not by how hard or how soft you press down as you play. Keyboardist don’t have to develop a “touch” the way acoustic piano players do.

Moreover, when you perform ballads the dynamic range is often quite wide especially because the slowness of the tempo necessarily calls attention to the texture of the melody, if for no other reason than the listener has a longer time to consider a given note: to check out its duration and decay (does it fade or stop abruptly), to feel the use of space between notes, and to note the loudness or softness of any given note, as well as time to consider other factors.

Ahmed Sirour’s work immediately attracted me because of its gentle, wistful character. His music reminds me of Thom Bell, who was famous for revolutionizing the Philly soul sound, and of Charles Stephany, who was legendary on the Chicago scene of the seventies. Two stellar examples are Sirour’s remixes of songs by John Legend (“Shine”) and by Lalah Hathaway (“My Everything”). Until you hear the originals you may not fully appreciate how beautifully Sirour has reinterpreted these performances.

Just as the combination of an experienced contractor and an innovative interior designer can completely remake a house and produce stunning results, Ahmed Sirour has the talents and skills to completely remake a musical recording. He can keep the basic vocal track and introduce a new audio context that makes you think you are not only hearing the music anew but that you are hearing the song the way the song was actually meant to be performed.

Consider what Sirour has done with the Beatles classic, “Eleanor Rigby,” or better yet ruminate on how Sirour set a John F. Kennedy speech to music—the results are proof that you are in the presence of a musical magician. Who would have thought of mashing up The Supremes and Heavy D or completely recasting “Move Love” from Robert Glasper’s Black Radio album that features the new, female vocal ensemble of King. Sirour reconstructs “Move Love’s” bomp bap, heavy backbeat into a lilting bossa nova meets hip hop groove that is utterly captivating.

The track that completed the trifecta of winning results was the vocal version of “Love One Another” featuring vocalist Cleveland Jones. While I really dug what Ahmed did with the Eric Roberson “A Tale of Two” track, what happens on “Love One Another” is in another galaxy of accomplishment.

The lyrics don’t rely on rhyme. The vocal arrangement is a heavenly mix of acoustic bass entwined with finger snaps, enveloped by soft synth sounds surrounding subdued acoustic piano counterpoints. Jones’ plaintive and sincere vocal lead is cushioned by a female chorus. The lush song lingers in our consciousness even as it evaporates like a morning mist in the face of a glorious spring dawn.

“Love One Another” is from The After 2am Sessions LP, Ahmed Sirour’s debut release, a contemplative and even tender, intimate recording that is a unique and unusual outing for contemporary popular music. Additionally the album is mostly instrumental. Indeed, overall the music might accurately be described as soothing and that was Sirour’s intention.

The album revolves around three themes of Love: The Romantic, the Erotic, and the Spiritual. This is great music for unwinding at the end of the work day or for an early morning meditation.

Ahmed Sirour - if you have not heard that name before, you will and it won’t take much long

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