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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at and a music writer for and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the News Center Maine TV show “207” to talk of course.

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Posted: January 14, 2019

A pair of diverse shows at Port City from Alsarah and Lissie

Written by: Aimsel Ponti

Alsarah & The Nubatones. Photo by Carlos Ramirez

Both of the artists being previewed this week are new to me and radically different from one other, and yet both struck chords with exceptional vocals and musicianship.

Alsarah & The Nubatones and Lissie both have upcoming shows at Port City Music Hall, about a week about from each other. Here are five reasons why each of these artists are notable and worthy of your time and ears. When you’re done reading about them, it would be a good idea to hop online and give them both a listen.

SINCE THE ALSARAH & The Nubatones show is first, so let’s start there. It’s been a fantastic voyage of discovery having their music in my ears, and the live performance likely will be a kaleidoscopic tapestry of sounds.

1. Alsarah was born in Sudan, relocated to Yemen with her family when she was 8 and currently lives where at least half of the fabulous musicians who play here live: Brooklyn, New York.

2. Alsarah & The Nubatones were formed in 2010, and the band includes her sister, Nahid Abunama-Elgadi, on backing vocals. The other members are percussionist Rami El-Aasser, bassist Mawuena Kodjovi and oud player Brandon Terzic. The debut album was 2014’s “Silt,” followed by “Silt Remixed” in 2015. “Manara” came next in 2016 and a remixed version of it in 2017.

3. Alsarah studied ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. Merriam-Webster defines this as the study of music that is outside the European art tradition and the study of music in a sociocultural context.

4. Alsarah & The Nubatones describe their sounds as Nubian/Sudanese-inspired, East-African retro-pop and Alsarah sings in Arabic.

5. The “Manara” album is mesmerizing and all over the musical map. The title track is a slower tempo track with trance-inducing beats and horns. “Albahr” has an air of intrigue to it. The song rises and falls like a wave and is at times spine-tingling while also being passionately wild. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what Alsarah is singing about as music truly is a universal language. The opening track “Salam Nubia” has a building-up-to-something introduction that falls over the cliff like a waterfall and quickly becomes rhythmic and captivating.

Alsarah & The Nubatones

8 p.m. Thursday. Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland, $25 general admission floor, $35 general admission seated, $45 general admission preferred seating, all ages.

Lissie photo by Bill Reynolds

NEXT UP is Lissie, and I’m kicking myself for being so late to the party because even listening to her sing the phone book would be time well spent. Oh wait, phone books aren’t really a thing anymore. Well, she could sing the cooking instructions on a packet of oatmeal, such is the effect of her spellbinding voice. More on that in a moment.

1. Lissie’s full name is Elisabeth Corrin Maurus. She’s originally from Peoria, Illinois, and lives in Iowa. She’s a singer-songwriter with a rock and dream pop thing also going on.

2. Her latest album is “Castles,” released last March. It’s home to four singles: “Boyfriend,” “Blood & Muscle,” “Best Days” and “Love Blows.” They’re all ridiculously good because sometimes there’s a husky rasp to her voice and other times it’s high and bright. Not to mention the fact that she’s no slouch when it comes to lyrics. “I look around and all I see are reminders of a dream that died, a sort of suicide, a love denied, a life incomplete” is one example from “Love Blows.”

3. Current favorite track status on “Castles” is currently awarded to “Best Days” because it’s teaming with hope, and the words “I want more best days” are repeated with a sense of pleading but also conviction.

4. Lissie’s discography dates back to 2010 with her debut “Catch a Tiger,” followed by “Back to Forever” in 2013, “My Wild West” in 2016 and last year’s “Castles.” She also put out two live albums. In 2011, Lissie released a six-song EP of covers, and her take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” is all that and a bag of Stevie Nicks. Extra shout-out to the merchandise page of her website. because that’s where you can find a Lissie mason jar filled with wooden matches, a Lissie Swiss Army knife and Lissie “Best Days” sunglasses, among other treasures including plenty of vinyl. If she brings any of this to the Portland show, she can have all my money. Lastly, a press release revealed that she’s currently working on new material, which should see the light of day sometime this year.

5. Fun fact: Lissie appeared in an episode of Showtime’s “Twin Peaks: The Return” performing her song “Wild West” from the 2016 album “My Wild West.” The “Twin Peaks” reboot was fantastic, and the excellent artists featured in it did not go unnoticed.

Lissie with Lauren Crosby

8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23 Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland, $18 in advance, $20 day of show, $40 preferred seating, all ages.


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