This album deserves to be heard, if only for exposing the ignorant racism of much of British and American society to the sacrifices many people from the Eastern world and the Indian sub-continent in particular made to overcoming the Nazi threat in the 1940s. Noor Inayat Khan was a Sufi princess, the daughter of immigrant Indian parents who travelled to Britain and worked as a spy in Paris for the British Secret Service. She was captured, tortured and put to death in 1944 at the age of just 29 at Dachau by the German occupying forces, apparently without ever giving any information to them including her own name. She was awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre posthumously for her services to the allied forces, services which must not only have been painful and terrifying for her but also intimately against the essential pacifism inherent in Sufi Islamic thinking.
Geoffrey Armes is a US producer and musician and this album, on which he sings and plays all keyboards, percussion and guitars is dedicated to Noor's short life and murder. The bouncy opening track, "Take me up" is an Eastern tinged hymn to Noor's religious calling. It is followed by "Yasmeen", a reference to the codename used by the British to notify the French resistance of her landing near Paris, where she had spent most of her life before fleeing from the German invasion. This a tender and jittery arrangement with a shifting meter and odd semi-tonal quality, reflecting the nervous fear and apprehension she must have felt, tempered in the more hopeful second half arrangement by her natural desire to see her home again. French conversational voiceovers intersperse the dominant percussion, bass and wind instrument keyboard effects.
The melancholy "Child" and the more upbeat and emotional, "Anima Camera" are observations on Noor's likely feelings and motivations and in some ways their impacts on Armes himself who has clearly been immensely taken with and moved by her story. "Noor" captures the essence of her background in Sufi music and the influence of her father, a renowned musician, who died during her teenage years and who was a founder of the International Sufi Movement. "After dark" is an atmospheric piece with some stunning acoustic guitar work. The final song reveals Noor's attitude to death (liberty) itself as her strength of conviction. Armes clearly had personal difficulties facing up to the emotional absorption of this final stage of her life and avoids the undoubted horror of her final confinement and execution by looking to her belief in the ultimate superiority of her God and an afterlife as a release from her pain.
This is a beautifully structured work of pop, classical and world music styles, a touching tribute to a heroine whose story should be told more widely, certainly here in the UK as we approach our annual 'poppy day' remembrance.
1. Take me up
4. Anima Camera
6. After dark