Imani Uzuri’s The Gypsy Diaries combats the notion that nomads are lost souls. Ms. Uzuri says it best on “Dream Child,” “Traveling may feel lonely sometimes/But all who wander are not lost.” There is more time spent dispensing wisdom and offering assertions than pondering questions – this gypsy has a clue. As we follow her rhythmic travels from the spirituals of rural North Carolina through the ecstatic qawwali of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ms. Uzuri creates a tapestry of genre-smashing music that bridges nations.
The Gypsy Diaries is a serious album that doesn’t take itself too seriously, as evidenced by a lyrical surprise on “Whisperings (We Are Whole).” Ms. Uzuri constantly challenges and provokes, yet keeps her sly wit as an ever-present part of her travel kit. “I Sing the Blues” is rapturous, more bluesy than those who pay homage to the blues with a twangy guitar. She does not offer a list of complaints, but captures the sanctifying element of sharing your troubles. Interludes like “O’ Woman” and “Raga for My Lovers” beg for the full song treatment, but Ms. Uzuri shows restraint in giving just a taste. Whether she’s shouting on a mountaintop for her deceased grandmother or arranging a rendezvous at a train station, Ms. Uzuri’s weaves genuine soul, passion and yearning into every narrative she spins.
The album’s intrigue goes beyond the songs–which, it’s safe to say, are far superior to anything you’re listening to. It reintroduces the assured confidence of a brave, bold voice. Ms. Uzuri is convinced she can try on any musical style and wear it anyway she pleases, and she’s correct. Flipping the pages of her travelogue beckons the listener to find their own journey–but in the meantime, we’re free to call shotgun on this gypsy’s next adventure.