Serena Ferrara & Simone Mor – Kemana: Album Review

World cultures in harmony – Kemana is a divine voyage of musical discovery.

Release Date:  11th March 2022

Label: Vibra

Formats: CD, Digital formats

I don’t believe that there are enough superlatives in the English language to adequately describe what I’ve just heard.

Jazz vocalist Serena Ferrara and flamenco multi-instrumentalist Simone Mor have put their heads, and their monumental talents together to take those who are willing on a voyage of musical discovery.  A voyage that transcends multiple cultures and frontiers and which blends the sounds, traditions and stories that it picks up along its way.  The result is Kemana, and it’s an utterly divine piece of work.

Serena’s life story has its origins in Sicily.  She’s an honours graduate from The Cuneo and Milan Jazz Conservatory of Music, a Professor at the Parma Conservatory and, when she can find the time, she works as a vocal trainer.  Since 1998, she’s performed in just about every corner of the world and has collaborated with a massive list of the world’s top jazz musicians, including Keith and Julie Tippett, Giovanni Falzone, Jorge Pardo and Mike Westbrook.

Simone is a true citizen of the world, having lived and worked throughout Europe, Asia, Arabia and North Africa.  He graduated in classical guitar from Conservatory “L.Marenzio” in Brescia, Italy, and he’s a specialist in World Music, jazz and rock.  He currently devotes his energies towards flamenco, middle eastern and central Asian music and, like Serena, his list of past collaborators is highly impressive.  Happily, the pair were eventually thrown together as they followed their respective musical destinies, and Kemana is the result of that meeting.

The word Kemena originates in Indonesia, and its meaning is “Where is it going?”  The music on this album takes the form of a harmonic encounter between a range of widespread and disparate cultures, in an exploration to try and answer that question.  The album’s eleven tracks take the listener on an aural voyage that takes in northern Europe, the Indian subcontinent, Brazil, Indonesia, Cape Verde, and Sicily, before ending in north-western Africa.  Along the way, jazz, flamenco, salsa, raga, local folk styles and even a touch of good, old-fashioned psychedelia are accumulated and blended into one of the most delicious musical cocktails that it has ever been my pleasure to savour.

As you’ll have gathered by now, Kemana is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-genre piece of work.  In truth, I don’t have the linguistic or analytical skills to offer a deep insight into the more technical aspects of what’s being served up – but does that really matter?  My judgement of Kemana is made purely on my enjoyment of the music and, on that basis, I have no hesitation in saying that I love it.  Unconditionally.  I know that it’s only early March but, already, I know that I’ve just heard a potential candidate for my nomination of Album of the Year, 2022.

Serena and Simone are joined on Kemana by a few well-chosen friends.  Italian/Brazilian cellist, Daniela Savoldi and percussionist Luca Canali play on every track and, as the aural journey makes its harmonious way around its various destinations, the ensemble is joined by Indian vocalist Varijashree Venugopal, bassist Nicola “Faso” Fasini, Senegalese percussionist Dudù Kouate and flautist Carlo Nicita, each of whom add richness, depth and local flavourings in the subtle, seamless way that is a feature of the album’s production.

Multi-part vocal harmonies, a plodding bassline and tasteful, light percussion signal the start of this fantastic voyage with Zenit, a visit to Europe’s Northern Steppes.  Serena delivers an oriental-flavoured vocal, and we’re off on our way.  Dimokransa, a song that recounts a “discovery of hidden treasure” gives us our first taste of the magnificent blend of jazz and flamenco that pervades the album.  Simone’s guitar mastery is thoroughly breathtaking, and it’s abundantly clear that Serena is a vocalist of incredible versatility.  Dimokransa is actually a song from the repertoire of Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade; it’s the album’s only “cover” and it fits perfectly.

The voyage moves onward to India for Timur, a short, atmospheric piece in which Simone manages to somehow produce a guitar sound that is simultaneously flamenco and raga, whilst guest Varijashree delivers a heart-rending vocal.  Timur transforms seamlessly into the jazzy salsa of Mulai.  Simone’s guitar and Serena’s scat vocal get ever more urgent as the song progresses and Daniela and Carlo step forward to fill in any gaps with cello and flute respectively.

The salsa theme is continued for the delightful Dia A Dia.  Serena’s vocal is spine-tinglingly wonderful on this restful, melodic song and the guitar, cello, flute and percussion are so exactly right.  Next, it’s on to Sicily for Portami la Luna – literally: “Bring me the Moon” – a song that evokes a warm Sicilian sunset.  The chorus is probably the nearest thing to a “full” band sound on the album, as bass, guitar, voices and percussion all meet in a way that’s irresistible.  Daniela takes the spotlight for Barat, a deep, grinding and exploratory cello solo, as the tour moves onward to the island of Bali for the hypnotic, almost psychedelic, Bali Light.  Simone plays a rotary guitar pattern as Serena sings a trance-like vocal.

The wonderful A Pedi Nudi is, perhaps, my favourite song on the album.  Sung in a Sicilian dialect (the title means “barefoot”) it’s a song on which all of the album’s great features seem to come together; it’s a magnificent lazy, summery blend of jazz and flamenco, the vocal is divine and Simone’s guitar is just awesome.  Joyous and atmospheric, A Pedi Nudi made me want to drop everything and head for southern Italy for more.

Simone continues to amaze as we head for Cameroon, our final destination, with the instrumental Nadir, before we arrive for the album’s finale, the magical Dimbambé.  A song that, somehow, brings this entire experience together, it tells the stories of a magical ancestor and, once again, Serena, Simone, Daniela, Nicola, Luca and guest percussionist Dudù are all on top form.  It’s a marvelous ending to an enchanting album.

Sometimes, you hear an album for the first time that you know will be with you for months – years even – to come.  Kemana is one such album.  Miss it at your peril.

Watch Serena and Simone perform an early version of Dimbambé, the album’s closing track – live at HD Studios, Italy – here:

Serena Ferrara and Simone Mor Online:

Serena: YouTube/ Facebook/ Instagram

Simone: YouTube/ Facebook/ Instagram

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