Charls Ava is a border-dweller of the highest order--her music art lives where continents meet and where cultures make transactions.
Charls was born in the United States to Egyptian parents, and had a run in New York City that saw her working as a session singer, mainly singing big commercials--a decent living for a singer in a city where singers can’t always make a decent living. She had big moments: singing backup for M.I.A. and once performing a solo for French first lady Carla Bruni at Julliard. But ultimately, she began to feel a scream within, to stop using her voice to sell and go work on the music she wanted to make.
She packed up in winter 2015 and moved to Cairo, commuting back and forth to New York for a year, then in 2017 settled in Cairo on a long-term basis, to craft her electronic/experimental songs.
Cairo is ancient and modern; a crowded city with a million people going their own way on any given street, everywhere you look a story, a place fusing noise, music, improvisation and an underground gritty creativity. It’s where Charls Ava began to explore the themes of her new solo effort, a meditation on existential panic.
The first single, “Machine,” fuses organic polyrhythms with angular, robotic lyrical chirps, sounds and guitar as Charls considers the delicate nature of life and the extent to how the body can break down at any moment. It’s reminiscent at times of St. Vincent in its irresistible, danceable weirdness.
Elsewhere amid her new material, Charls flirts with different scales, plugs Middle Eastern instruments into straightforward rock songs, croons about death in a lounge-jazz tune that’s coming apart at the seams featuring horns recorded with musicians in Ethiopia. In the song “Time,” she spends two minutes working within a Middle Eastern idiom only to close with a dramatic, and very Western, coda. In her versatility and exploration, she in a way mimics Tom Waits; in her expression of her own unique experience, she’s a singular artist.
It’s easy for a musician to write eclectic material and come off as an aimless shape-shifter or an impressionist; it’s inspired, on the other hand, for a musician to cover the map and maintain a coherent voice. It helps if you live, as Charls Ava does, at the border.