Jon Balke, Amina Alaoui, Jon Hassell, Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche, Bjarte Eike

“I’m particularly pleased with the outcome and scope of the Siwan recording, an inspired meeting between musicians of the north and the south, a creative coming together of cultures. The potential of Jon Balke’s ideas and arrangements is, I believe, optimally realized in the architecture of the mix, which contrasts and finely balances very different yet strikingly compatible talents. Amongst them, Amina Alaoui, her voice conveying some remarkable poetic texts, the subtly powerful violinist Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche, Bjarte Eike’s twelve baroque soloists with strings and lute and harpsichord, master hand-drummer Pedram Khavar Zamini, and Jon Hassell, whose musical biography has long addressed the synthesizing of traditions.
In time, this music will be persuasively presented in concerts around the world, yet the recording itself, as the very first reference, is an unrepeatable event, of freshness and clarity, documenting the process of discovery.” – Manfred Eicher

Magical music, trailing deep roots. The listener is at first struck by the power of Amina Alaoui’s voice, soaring above Jon Balke’s remarkable compositions for baroque ensemble – with soloists drawn from jazz, scattered improvisational traditions, and the world of early music. Behind this remarkable musical integration is a web of philosophical, historical, and literary interconnections, as Balke and Alaoui set texts from Sufi poets, Christian mystics, troubadours and more and – inspired by the tolerant and creative spirit of medieval Al-Andalus – ponder what was lost to the bonfires of the Inquisition. Setting new standards in transcultural music, Siwan shows what can be made today when artists of the most divergent background pool their energies.

Featured Artists Recorded

September 2007-May 2008, Rainbow Studio, Oslo

Original Release Date


  • 1Tuchia
    (Jon Balke)
  • 2O Andalusin
    (Amina Alaoui, Ibrahim Ibn Khafaja, Jon Balke)
  • 3Jadwa
    (Abu Abdallah Al-Homaïdi, Amina Alaoui, Jon Balke)
  • 4Ya Safwati
    (Al-Mu'tamid Ibn Abbad, Amina Alaoui, Jon Balke)
  • 5Ondas do mar de Vigo
    (Amina Alaoui, Martín Codax, Jon Balke)
  • 6Itimad
    (Al-Mu'tamid Ibn Abbad, Amina Alaoui, Jon Balke)
  • 7A la dina dana
    (Amina Alaoui, Lope de Vega, Jon Balke)
  • 8Zahori
    (Jon Balke)
  • 9Ashiyin Raïqin
    (Abu Abdallah Ibn Ghalib Al-Rusafi, Amina Alaoui, Jon Balke)
  • 10Thulâthiyat
    (Amina Alaoui, Husayn Mansur Al-Hallaj, Jon Balke)
  • 11Toda ciencia trascendiendo
    (Amina Alaoui, San Juan de la Cruz, Jon Balke)
Jahrespreis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik
Stereo, Audiophiles Highlight
On his latest project, Siwan, Norwegian pianist and composer Jon Balke blends a variety of traditional musical styles, finding common ground among their cultural and geographical differences. Calling on inspirations from Sufi, Christian and Jewish mysticism, Balke imagines a melding of European and Middle Eastern cultures free from the stifling flames of the Inquisition.
From the musical perspective, this haunting album, full of mid-eastern signifiers and references is like a vast, simmering soundtrack for a movie yet to be made.
Stuart Nicholson, Jazzwise
Andalusian music, early Baroque and jazz all come together, united by their flexibility and ability to incorporate improvisation. It’s not a music of individual prowess as much as incredible interactive group subtlety. Unlike anything else you’ve heard and highly seductive, there is so much depth, breadth and intricacy here it will take time to fully absorb all that is on offer.
Peter Bacon, The Jazz Breakfast
Jon Balke überrascht uns immer wieder aufs Neue. Kein Kontinent auf dem Atlas der Weltmusik scheint ihm fremd zu sein. … Mit dem Projekt Siwan erkundet Balke die Musik des mittelalterlichen maurischen Spaniens, eines Schmelztiegels christlicher, jüdischer und arabischer Kultur vor den Schrecken der Reconquista. Er verbindet seine andalusische Spurensuche mit der Musik der Renaissance und des frühen Barock sowie Elementen des Jazz. … Diese Musik ist nichts für eilige Zeitgeistsurfer; Menschen, die bereit sind, sich auf im Wortsinn Unerhörtes einzulassen, wird sie jedoch überraschen und verzaubern.
Manfred Papst, Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag
Gemeinsam mit einem multikulturell besetzten Ensemble betreibt Balke eine inspirierte Klangspuren-Suche in den Trümmern eines fast vergessenen, aber mythenumrankten historischen Staaten- und Kulturgebildes namens Al-Andalus. … Wenn sich Jon Balke sich jetzt gemeinsam mit der marokkanischen Sängerin Amina Alaoui, einem Barock-Streicherensemble und ein paar Jazzmusikern auf diese Spurensuche begeben hat, so ist das Resultat eine Folklore imaginaire, ein Kunstprodukt, das gleichwohl gefangen nimmt.
Ulrich Kriest, Jazzthetik
Was bei anderen zum gewaltsamen Kunstproduzierenwollen abstürzen würde, macht er zu einem Jahrhunderte und Weltgegenden versöhnenden Hörfest. Ein kleines Barockorchester, die marokkanische Sängerin Amina Alaoui, der arabische Geiger Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche, zwei Perkussionisten aus Teheran und Oslo, ein deutscher Lautespieler und mittendrin der amerikanische Trompeter Jon Hassell, der mild die Brücken baut zwischen den Traditionen. Andalusien und Europa, Muslime und Christen, Jazz und Barockmusik verschmelzen zu epischer Breite wie in einem Rushdie-Roman.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Rheinischer Merkur
Eine verwunschene Welt tut sich für 65 Minuten auf, ein Klang-Universum, das leicht zugänglich ist, obwohl in ihm so viele Geheimnisse schlummern, obwohl Mittelalter und Gegenwart eine Allianz eingehen, obwohl Kulturen zueinander finden, die so gegensätzlich scheinen. Auf mirakulöse Weise verbindet die Musik, die sich immer wieder abstrakte kleine Ausflüge in unerforschtes Gebiet erlaubt, alle in ihr auftauchenden Elemente und formt sie zu etwa, das schlüssig, das organisch tönt.
Ssirus Pakzad, Jazzthing
Entre orient et occident, jazz contemporain et musique traditionnelle, intuitions électroacoustique et tradition baroque, la rencontre semble d’une fulgurante evidence. Jon Balke et Amina Alaoui partagent un certain art de l’ornementation, au confluent des cultures: autour des melodies, un écrin pour la voix. L’horizon orchestral … révèle de multiples correspondances transversals, le soufflé vocalise de la trompette de Jon Hassel en echo de la chanteuse marocaine, les textures rythmiques créant une dynamique d’une finesse rappelant l’électronique nordeuropéenne. Aux frontiers du jazz, là où séduisent les passeurs.
Thierry Lepin, Jazzman

A powerful and magnetic album, and a reimagining of an epoch – and a project whose evolution was triggered, Jon Balke says, by “a simple, intuitive observation of the similarities of two beautiful traditions and soundscapes”. In the extraordinary voice and melodic inventiveness of Amina Alaoui, Balke heard correspondences with the “glittering universe” of early music, as explored by Bjarte Eike’s Barokksolistene.

Over the course of bringing these soundworlds together, Balke’s Siwan has developed into something broader yet, “a wide landscape of aspects touching European musical and political history, poetry from Al-Andalus, contemporary politics and human cross-cultural inter-relations”.

Signifying “balance or equilibrium” in Aljamiado (a Latin-Arabic hybrid language deployed in medieval Andalusia), Siwan creatively speculates on what was lost to the bonfires of the Inquisition. Andalus was a beacon of learning in the so-called Dark Ages, and unique in the degree of exchange between Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars. As Balke points out, there are striking correspondences in the writings of the Sufi poets and the Catholic and Sephardic mystics, clearly evident in the sung texts here which range from words of the martyred Al-Hallaj (”Thulathiayat”) to St John of the Cross’s ecstatic “Toda ciencia trascendiendo”.

Andalusian classical music was allegedly born in the court of Cordoba in the 9th century, and Moorish Spain was a centre from which musical idioms and instruments travelled. The notion of music and ideas radiating from a spiritual-geographical nexus is explored by Jon Balke, Amina Alaoui and friends, outlining, in contemporary spirit, a common denominator for Andalusian music, early Baroque music and jazz: three idioms distinguished by flexibility, openness to interpretation and improvisation, each with a great richness of forms and variations.

Initiated by Balke, with Alaoui and violinist Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche as contributors from the outset, and with Jon Hassell, himself a distinguished synthesizer of traditions, as guest soloist, the music for Siwan was written in response to a commission from Cosmopolite, Oslo’s multicultural stage. Long one of the most sensitive composer-arrangers for large ensemble, Balke has excelled himself with Siwan, creating a form with open spaces in which very different soloists can express themselves, co-exist, collaborate...

The album was recorded between September 2007 and May 2008, with Manfred Eicher producing. Since the recording, the Siwan ensemble has performed in Bergen, Stavanger and Cairo.