Afro Celt sound sister


Pina certainly has a voice. The kind that makes you wonder why so many bland, soulless ones ever get to bother your ears. Hers is feline, hypnotic; it comes from the heart, and it touches you there. Along with other famous voices, such as those of Peter Gabriel and Robert Plant, Pina's can be heard on Afro Celt Sound System's new album, Volume 3: Further In Time. It is a well-deserved acknowledgement of her talent.

But let's go back further in time. Sabine Pina Kollars was born in Vienna at the start of the 1970s. She was three years old when she was put on a stage to sing a Christmas carol in a retirement home. Along with the singing, Pina took courses in classical guitar. By the age of 16, she was beginning to write songs. Then came university. Her father insisted she take a course in something she could earn money with. So she picked law and guitar; then quit law and started medicine; then gave up everything to run away to Scotland with her then boyfriend.

"Austria is not a very artist-friendly country," says Pina. She left because she wanted to make a living from music, which she says would have been impossible in Austria. Quite a big step, isn't it? "Some people have the courage to leave, some don't," she replies.

Pina recorded a five-track limited-edition CD with World of Music, a German label, in 1996. The same year, two of her songs featured on a French compilation. Two others featured on an Austrian compilation in 1997. But her real career had yet to begin.

Last year, she was playing at the Cashmere Club, a small venue in London, when she was spotted by Peter Whitehead, then a consultant for BMG Records. The club had been established to allow any musician to come in and sing a few songs. Big names such as Paul McCartney and Fleetwood Mac go there quite regularly, and record companies send talent scouts.

A short time later, Whitehead included one of her songs on a CD with other unsigned artists. From there, things moved quickly. One of The Cranberries' managers liked Pina's track and passed it to a Dublin manager, who passed it to a lawyer in London, who passed it to record companies and to Steve Baker, her current manager.

Baker happens also to manage Peter Gabriel and Afro Celt Sound System. Hence Pina's appearance as a guest singer on one of the tracks, Go On Through, when it emerged that the Afro Celts needed a female voice.

They met last summer, and "the experiment worked incredibly well", recalls Simon Emmerson, the musician and producer who brought together this experimental band. He is fired with enthusiasm for her. "Pina's voice is just remarkable. It's unique and smooth. She's not singing to an audience. She's singing to herself, from her heart."

In that regard, the feelings evoked by Pina's voice could be likened to those of Beth Gibbons, the Portishead singer.

Although Pina "is not going to become a permanent singer of the band, because she has her career", Emmerson says the Afro Celts would like to work with her again. "She got on very well with the band," he adds. Besides the professional collaboration, Pina "became a friend" - a friend who now lives in west Cork, in fact, "very close to the seashore".

Pina enjoys the place - who wouldn't? - and the people, who are "different from those in Austria, which is good". When she has time for herself - that is, when she is not working - you can find her at the wheel of her van, going for drives with her boyfriend, Andy, and her daughter.

However strong, she says her professional experiences stand no comparison to that of giving birth. That was four years ago, at home.

She describes the birth as "the best experience in my life so far. I felt very much one with the universe and was overwhelmed by the power of birth".

Now Pina is working on her first solo album. "It's about the two last years of my life. Love. Separation." Like Volume 3: Further In Time, it will be released on Gabriel's label, Real World Records.

Pina is currently in London, with her boyfriend - also a musician - to work on the tracks. From Sunday until August 6th, she will be supporting Afro Celt Sound System for six dates in the US. With luck, it will be the real beginning of a long, successful career.