A blog about arts and societies around the world

Aziza Brahim: The voice of the Sahrawis

Sahrawi singer Aziza Brahim’s debut album Mabruk is out on Reaktion. It’s deep, sincere and militant.

Old clichés describing the Sahara as a vast lifeless zone have long gone. The success of the likes of Tinariwen has proved that the region is busy cultural center.

Sahrawi is the name of the population living in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. When the Spanish left their colonial outpost in 1975, a conflict broke out between Morocco and the Sahrawis. Many were forced to flee into the interior of the Sahara Desert.

aziza2Like their Tuareg neighbors, the Sahrawi society has been subject of a great social change since colonization. This has had a significant impact on arts in general, and music in particular.

New generations of musicians have introduced so-called Western elements in their pieces, such as the guitar. But they have transcended these influences and merged them with their own ones – they have made these new instruments theirs.

Aziza Brahim’s Mabruk follows this path. Whether she plays blues (Invasores), funk (Sensación del Tanque) or Spanish sounds (Laaiún Ezeina), the shadow of Sahrawi traditions remains like when she beats the tabal percussions, a typical instrument from her region.

Special merit to the fast paced La Tierra Derrama Lágrimas. It’s a tribute to the freedom fighters in Western Sahara – a central theme of the album. Aziza’s lyrics address the conflict in the region and her people’s grim living conditions.

Like them, Aziza Brahim’s life hasn’t been an easy one. She went through difficult stages, from Cuba exile to refugee camps. Her music has turned out all the richer for it.

On Mabruk, her experiences can be felt from beginning to end. It’s personal, sometimes melancholic, sometimes upbeat. The riffs and melodies might not be always groundbreaking but it’s definitely 2012’s highlight so far.

Besides Aziza Brahim’s album, Reaktion and the German label Glitterhouse have recently released a compilation featuring rare or unreleased tracks of Touareg artists such as Tinariwen or Bombino. All the benefits go to the refugee populations of Northern Mali, victims of the ongoing conflict since January 2012. Click here for more info.

The video of Aziza Brahim’s song La Tierra Derrama Lágrimas:


Photo credit: Djogo Niemeyer

An edited version of this article has been published in French in Touki Montréal


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