of West Africa’s top musical talent throw an easy-going desert party,
while headliner Aziza Brahim paid moving tribute to the region’s
Cool, stately and soulful … Aziza Brahim. Photograph: Philip Ryalls/Redferns
This concert – a celebration of west African music – is a good
reminder of the troubled Sahara region’s diverse and inspiring talent. Last year’s inaugural event concentrated on Mali,
but this intriguing event was broader in scope and attracted an
impressive crowd, even though few of the musicians are known to British
Born in in the desolate Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and now based in Barcelona, headliner Aziza Brahim
uses her songs to bring attention to one of Africa’s forgotten
tragedies. Playing hand drums and backed by a band dominated by Spanish
acoustic guitarists, who brought a flamenco and jazz edge to her Sahrawi
rhythms, she gave a cool, stately and soulful set that began with Gdeim
Izik, an angry protest about disputed Western Sahara.
From further south, in Mauritania, there was an impressive appearance from Noura Mint Seymali. She comes from a celebrated griot
family, and played the ardine harp, typically reserved by female
musicians. She has shaken up traditional styles with help from her
husband, Jeiche Ould Chighaly, who accompanied her with furious and bluesy improvised electric guitar. There was another rousing British debut from Nabil Baly Othmani, a Tuareg from southern Algeria who plays the oud, and whose laid-back songs often rose to a furious crescendo.
The concert opened with an historic Tuareg supergroup, as the Malian
Tartit band were joined by Othmani and members of Tamikrest, Terakaft
and Tinariwen. The result was like an easy-going party in the desert,
with female drummers and singers joined by slinky instrumental work from
the male guitarists, and the session ending with some furious dancing.
This was the true spirit of the Sahara, so it was unfortunate that the
show ran long, meaning they didn’t return for the expected grand finale.
Entrevista y actuación en el programa Vrije Geluiden de la televisión pública holandesa VPRO
Aziza Brahim is de stem van de Westelijke Sahara, een land dat door Marokko is geannexeerd. In haar muziek zingt ze over hoop en vrijheid. Met haar album 'Soutak', op nummer 1 in de World Music Charts Europe, breekt ze nu ook internationaal door.
" Aziza Brahim
is a powerful voice not only for the Sahrawi cause but also for her
people’s traditional music ... Songs such as ‘Julud’, dedicated
to a mother (and motherland), ‘Lagi’ (‘Refugee’) and ‘La Palabra’ (‘The
Word’) bring a new range of empathy and softness to this arresting
Aziza Brahim, singer and refugee, is bringing the songs of Western Sahara to the world
“My strongest influence will always be the haul: the traditional sound
of the Western Sahara,” says Aziza Brahim. But while the singer is keen
to draw attention to the themes of personal and collective identity that
run throughout her work, she is equally happy to recognise an even
deeper connection between all her inspirations.
“I listen to lots of different styles of music from lots of different
places: Africa, Europe, the United States and the Arab world, because
I’m interested in roots.” This simple statement makes a lot of sense,
especially when one pauses to consider Brahim’s own story. She was born
in 1976 in a refugee camp in Algeria that her mother fled to during the
early days of the continuing Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara.
She never met her father, who died during the Western Sahara war, and it
was in those camps that she first displayed a talent for music.
In 1995, Brahim won a song contest that drew artists from all over
the partially recognised state of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic,
then joined the National Sahrawi Music Group. Since then, she has struck
out on her own and recorded four increasingly acclaimed solo albums.
The most recent, Soutak
– out now on the German Glitterbeat label – shows her voice at its
powerful, emotive best and is bringing her work to a growing audience.
“I’ve always focused my lyrics on the history and struggle of my
people,” Brahim says. “Music is very important in the Sahrawi culture. A
vital part of our cultural legacy is oral, not written. Music is a base
for much of our poetry and many of our stories. It can be used as a
means of resistance, but also a way of coming together. At every party –
weddings, celebrations and religious events – it is always present.
It’s something that we need.” While the respective plights of certain
other stateless communities are widely reported in the global media, the
Sahrawi are rarely discussed. As a public figure from the Western
Sahara, this frequently forces Brahim to act as a de facto ambassador
for her people. While this is undoubtedly a considerable responsibility
for any artist, she appears content with the role and comfortable with
the obligations this places on her music.
“It’s an old conversation,” Brahim says. “Making art in the service
of a cause … For myself, I am just glad to be in a position where I can
make people aware of the situation of the Sahrawi people. My songs talk
about those issues because I can’t do anything else. When I express the
concerns of my people through my music, I am also expressing my own
“Personal experience is very important in my work, but I
am also part of a wider society. I belong to an occupied country – my
people have been exiled and in refugee camps for nearly 40 years, my
homeland is filled with landmines and families have been separated. The
international community may be able to sit back and watch this happen
but I can’t do the same. I want to talk about these things, but it is
important to me to not only write and sing about these issues. I also
try to include other parts of life that anyone in the world can identify
with and relate to.”
Brahim is now based in Barcelona, where she lives with her husband
and two young children. Up until 1975, the Western Sahara was under the
colonial control of Spain. Many linguistic ties still exist between the
territories, but Brahim’s spoken Spanish appears most informed by the
childhood years she spent as a scholarship student in Cuba. This
experience was relatively common among Sahrawis of her age, but she
believes that her time in the republic may have left her with more than
“While I was there, I wasn’t making music,” she says, “but I was
exposed to the heritage of the country. I got to know the work of a lot
of people. It was all very new for me then, but now I think some element
of my time there will always be present in my songs.”
Brahim’s third outing, Mabruk, explored a harder-edged rock-influenced
sound, Soutak offers folk music distilled to its purest essence.
Slightly smoother than the traditional Sahrawi songs of artists such as
Mariem Hassan, the album’s pared-down rhythms and acoustic
instrumentation place emphasis on Brahim’s richly textured vocals. “I
felt that I needed to make a simpler sound,” Brahim says. “I wanted to
focus on the new songs and their lyrics, and to use the tabal – the
traditional Sahrawi percussion instrument – prominently.”
If it can be compared to anything, Brahim’s recent work most strongly
echoes the raw passion of blues and flamenco. In fact, it is no
surprise to learn that many such artists have figured heavily on her
personal playlist. “My country is very connected to Spanish history and
culture; that’s why I use Spanish in some of my songs [in addition to
Hassaniya Arabic]. I listen to lots of traditional Spanish music. From
Africa, I love artists like Ali Farka Touré, Momo Wandel Soumah, Salif
Keita and Miriam Makeba. I can also feel a strong connection between my
own work and that of Dimi Mint Abba – she’s an emblematic female singer
in haul culture. But lately I’ve spent a lot of time listening to
American music, too: Big Mama Thornton, Koko Taylor, Billie Holiday,
Jimi Hendrix …”
Of course, the idea of desert blues is not new. Malian Tuareg bands
such as Tinariwen, whose sixth album Emaar was released last month, and
Tamikrest, with whom Brahim shares a record label, have done much to
popularise the form in recent years. While Brahim’s approach is somewhat
different, relying on the poignancy of the human voice rather than
sandstorms of electric guitars, she does recognise a good deal of common
“I celebrate the success of these artists,” she says. “They are
musicians who I listen to and like a great deal. They deserve what they
have achieved and they have a fascinating musical culture. The growing
acceptance of African music around the world is a very positive thing
for all of us. Of course, I feel a relationship with other African
artists because we are all from the same continent, but in many ways we
are all very different. In the case of those bands, though, the Tuareg
culture is very similar to the Sahrawi culture. In my country a lot of
people like their music, and there is definitely a connection there for
When I met Brahim in Barcelona with her family, just before Soutak
entered the European World Music Chart at No 1, she was clearly happy
and fulfilled, both professionally and personally. With a number of
international appearances planned for the coming months and the tally of
glowing reviews still growing, she has reached a high point in her
career. But that good fortune is tempered by the harsher realities that
inform so much of her work.
“The camps where I was born are where many of the people who are most
important to me still have to live,” she says. “I still keep in contact
with everyone and visit them whenever I can. It’s a paradox, though. I
have this freedom of expression in so many places, yet it is denied to
me in my own country. I know that the Sahrawi people enjoy my music, but
they have to enjoy it in a clandestine way. I feel very lucky that I
get to perform all over the world and to spread the messages that are in
my music. I just hope that we, the Sahrawi people, can enjoy our own
culture in freedom at some point in the future.”
Dave Stelfox is a photographer and journalist based in London,The National
With Soutak, Barcelona-based Saharan songwriter Aziza Brahim
follows up two releases with the group Gulili Mankoo. The album title
translates as "your voice" and the acoustic arrangements of the tracks
showcase a rhythmic blueprint for the desert rock style popularised by
the likes of Tinariwen and Tamikrest in recent years. With Tamikrest
producer Chris Eckman (of Dirtmusic/The Walkabouts) at the controls, the
tracks were recorded live in a Barcelona studio last summer by a six
piece group. The songs tell stories of the plight of people from
Sawahari refugee camps between Algeria and the Western Sahara where
Aziza was raised following Morocco's 1975 invasion of the Western
Sahara, and takes inspiration from the music of Mali. Brahim also looks
to refugees from other parts of the world to share their stories, and
the musical influences on the album also stretch much further. Having
experienced firsthand the hardship of living as a refugee, Brahim
travelled to Cuba as a young teenager and encountered the problems there
during its economic crisis
in the 1990s.
The album opens with the defiant 'Gdiem Izik', in which Brahim recounts
witnessing the "horror and torture" of the protest "Camp of Dignity"
crushed by the Moroccan-backed authorities, and event cited by Noam
Chomsky as a catalyst for the Arab Spring. Brahim's powerful words
address how "oppression" at the camp was picked up on by the media, as
fiercely played guitar riffs fall onto relentless percussion, and wild,
trilling vocal ululations appear towards the end of the track. The
acoustic arrangement contrasts with the electric mode of Brahim's
previous group's releases, but with its strong groove, it is no less
The album is influenced by a mixture of Malian, Spanish, Cuban and
contemporary Anglo-European styles, linked together by traditional
Sahawari sounds. It makes for gently uplifting songs, Aziza's powerful
voice at the forefront. The group features Spanish and Malian musicians
assembled by the singer, and includes her sister Badre Abdallhe on
backing vocals. Aziza also plays acoustic rhythm guitar and tabal - a
traditional Sawahari hand-drum. 'Lagi (Refugee)' begins with a
captivating solo vocal before the hypnotically intricate guitars come
in, clean and exquisitely played, but with a looseness to the structure
as Brahim rasps the universal story of refugees living in tents
"worn-out by time" from Mali and beyond to the Ivory Coast, Sudan and
On fifth track, 'Aradana' the music is stripped back to a percussive
skeleton as the sisters share vocals in a haunting duet, singing, "The
mist returned without him," as they lament the disappearance of a loved
one. The arrangement reflects the way Brahim composes her songs, lyrics
first, music second, with emphasis on the tabal as the source. And when
the guitars return on title track 'Soutak' it is a seamless transition,
the song dips into different grooves as the lead guitar lines complement
the singing, while adding extra layers of hypnotic melodies as Brahim
sings, "I want to hear your voice and the sweet words that have lived
The lively flamenco flavoured 'Manos Enemigas (The Enemy's Hands)',
complements the Latin feel throughout the album, in which Brahim asserts
"I am not afraid of my enemy, every day I experience the explosion,"
reflecting on the powerlessness and even the desensitisation in the face
of constant conflict. The message throughout the album is one of the
struggle faced by the Sawahari people who "cannot live in peace" and is
perhaps best summed up on album closer 'Ya Watani (My Land)': "My
beloved land, My symbol and sustenance... The dream of my descendants, I
reject this injustice." On Soutak Aziza Brahim offers music as the struggle for empowerment.
Aziza Brahim dans les Inrocks: "Produit par Chris Eckman,
l'album décline les harmonies acoustiques de l'impeccable guitariste
Kalilou Sangaré, et le caractère hypnotique de ces rythmes ancestraux du
blues des sables. La puissance d'évocation de la jeune femme et une
dualité assurée entre combat politique et propos intimes renvoient aux
modulations désolées de Billie Holiday, et à sa puissance"
Soutak is Aziza Brahim’s first album for the
always-interesting Glitterbeat label and it’s a corker. Brahim is
currently based in Spain but was born and raised in the Saharawi refugee
camps along the border of Algeria and Western Sahara that arose in the
wake of Morocco’s 1975 invasion and occupation (an occupation that
continues to this day). Her music is informed by the refugee experience,
her husky voice possessed of an elegiac sadness mixed with unshakeable
strength. Soutak, which translates as “Your Voice,” indeed
gives voice to the experience of the dispossessed, with songs like
“Lagi” (“Refugee”), “Ya Watani” (“My Land”) and “Manos Enemigas” (“The
It’s stirring stuff, in other words. But wait! This is not a case of something being worthy and important,
but ultimately dull. Brahim’s voice is lovely and the arrangements here
are spare and precise, but the tunes are strong because they work as
songs, not just as propaganda pieces. The fact that there’s real
substance to them makes them that much more powerful.
The standout cut here is “La Palabra” (“The Word”), but that’s just
because I’m sucker for bluesy arrangements that stretch into five-minute
trance sessions. Here Brahim, like Ali Farka Touré and many others
before her, bridges the gap between loping West African rhythms and
Mississippi Delta blues, with a thrumming bass line, facile guitar
picking and the singer’s keening voice floating over everything.
This is by no means the only notable tune. The album kicks off with
“Gdeim Izik,” a six-minute statement of purpose that, in many ways, sets
the tone for what is to follow. Brahim utilizes a subdued sonic palette
on this record, consisting of her voice, some nimble guitar, and a
rock-solid bass-and-drums rhythm section, anchored by lively conga and
the traditional hand-held tabla drum. “Gdeim Izik” fuses these elements
into a lively and propulsive tune, one that uses the bass to motor
things along but which leaves enough open spaces for the voice to occupy
This is her M.O. for the album as a whole. “Espejismos” ploughs much
of the same furrow, musically speaking, albeit at a slower speed and a
more mournful vocal tone. Looking at the accompanying lyric sheet, this
is perfectly appropriate for the material. “Lagi” and “Soutak” both up
the tempos, with the latter creating a fair degree of sonic density with
its wash of acoustic guitar and echoing percussion. Meanwhile,
“Aradana” stands out as something of a minimalist oddity, comprised
solely of Brahim chant-singing over hand percussion. At three minutes,
it’s the shortest track here and for some listeners it will be their
least favorite, but it’s undeniably arresting.
Brahim has self-released a pair of earlier albums, the 2008 EP Mi Canto and Mabruk
(2012), neither of which I have heard. This record, though, is
outstanding and it shows an artist at the top of her game. Born out of
pain and hardship, it doesn’t shy away from tough lyrical themes, but
Brahim has shown that beauty can come out of adversity and real art can
be the product of oppression. The important word in that last sentence
is “art.” This album makes a strong political statement, but don’t
listen to it because of that. Listen to it because the songs are
"It is an intensely personal recording, yet while the focus of Aziza Brahim’s
creativity is bound up with her own identity, she embraces universal
values and has an international approach ... there is the space for
Brahim’s dignified voice to take centre stage and deliver nine songs
that are at once noble, uncompromising and subtly inventive ... This
sensational CD deserves the widest possible exposure – as does, it can
be argued, the 40-year cause of the Saharawis people."
has created a CD of heartrending beauty which speaks to the plight of
refugees everywhere without descending into the mire of politics.
Instead of pointing fingers or blaming anybody, she has focused on the
results of the world ignoring oppressed
people everywhere. While this impressive in itself, Soutak is also an
example of the simple and elegant way in which musical traditions can be
combined and blended to create a sound which doesn’t compromise or
insult anyone’s culture. There aren’t many people who speak for the
voiceless among us, but here is one record which does so with
intelligence and integrity."
At first glance the Sahara Desert of North West Africa seems like one
of the most inhospitable places on the face of the earth. Movies, and
other Western media, usually show us images of trackless wastes, endless
miles of sand dunes dotted with the occasional oasis and scrubby
plants. However, this supposed barren land has been home to various
nomadic people for centuries. When the Arab and Ottoman armies started
to move into Africa and establish their North African kingdoms, they
found the tribesman already firmly established. While there were
occasional alliances between the new kingdoms in Algeria and Morocco,
the Caliphs and Emirs were wise enough not to attempt to impose their
rule on the nomads.
Even the European colonial rulers had the
initial good sense to leave well enough alone. It wasn’t until the
French and Spanish, the controllers of North Africa, discovered the
wealth of natural resources buried beneath the desert they began to
interfere. While the Kel Tamashek, (Tuareg) of Mali and Niger have been
receiving most of the world’s attention recently because of the
attempted takeover of Northern Mali by fundamentalist terror groups with
their very narrow definition of Islam, they aren’t the only nomadic
people who have seen their land and culture stolen out from under them
in the past eighty years. The area now known as Morocco had been once
been home to the Sahrawi people.
Like their Berber relatives to the south they have been forced out of
their traditional territories and into refugee camps and exile in
Algeria through the new government’s policies.
While the number of refugees living in the four camps in the northern
Algeria is unclear (estimates range from the 40,000 claimed by the
Moroccans to the 150,000 claimed by the Polisario Front
the Sahrawi governing body) the fact remains they are people without a
home whose plight has been ignored by most of the world. Unlike the Kel
Tamashek (Tuareg) who have been very successful in exporting their
culture, and by extension their circumstances, to the rest of the world
through music, the Sahrawi representation on the world stage has been
minimal. One voice who has been trying hardest to make herself heard has
been Aziza Brahim. While a child of the refugee camps, she now calls Barcelona Spain home, and its there she recorded her new album, Soutak (translated as “Your Voice”), for Glitterbeat Records.
title is very appropriate as the songs on the disc attempt to give
voice to not only the plight of her own people, but people in refugee
camps all over the world. While she sings in Spanish, the booklet
accompanying the disc comes with both English and Arabic translations of
the lyrics, so both the people for whom the songs are meant and people
in other parts of the world can understand their meaning. In an
introductory statement for the CD she says, “the album contains songs
about worries – intimate and collective – that take on universal
dimensions”. To that end she made the decision to incorporate both the
musical traditions of her own people and those of other cultures in
order to create a more inclusive sound.
Right from the opening
track, “Gidem Izik” (Camp of Dignity), you can hear the results of this
amalgamation. The solo guitar accompanying her has what can only be
called a distinctive Spanish feel and sound to it. There’s nothing
really overt you can put your finger on, but elements of Flamenco and
other styles classically associated with Spanish music come through.
Underpinning everything are percussion and electric bass. Anyone who has
listened to any of the music of the Kel Tamashek of Northern Mali from
the last decade or so will be familiar with the rhythm – the steady,
trance inducing beat which drives music forward in an effortless
While with the Kel Tamashek the rhythm provides the
undercurrent for the steady drone of their version of electric blues,
Brahim has used it as the foundation upon which she builds her more
complex vocal melodies. Although she has something of the same
declarative style of singing – she is telling stories after all – her
vocals show the influence of other cultures and styles. Whereas most of
the music from the nomadic tribes of the Sahara region I’ve heard in the
past the lyrics are almost chanted in time with the pulse of the beat,
Brahim allows her voice to reflect the emotional content of her lyrics
and uses the rhythm as the forge upon which she creates her own sound.
Reading through the English translations of her lyrics it quickly
becomes obvious she has been true to her word about creating songs which
not only speak of her own people, but also echo the plight of those in
similar situations around the world. Track three, “Espejismos” (Mirages)
is one of the most moving examples of this. In language that borders on
the poetic she describes the effects of war and strife upon the land in
a way which not only brings it to life, but evokes the suffering of
those who have to continue living there. “Damn the seeds of graves/that
beat among the stones of your homeland/that grow/nourished by
rage,/sacrificing the worth of the crop/and its fruit.”
her songs aren’t just about desolation and horror, they are also about
the potential for oppressed people to speak out and be heard. In the
CD’s sixth and title track, “Soutak” (Your Voice) Brahim says “I want to
hear your voice/and the sweet words/that have lived within me/ever
since those days.” Within each person who has lived a life dominated by
outside forces resides a voice which hopes for something better. Having
been born in a refugee camp, and experienced what it’s like to have her
homeland stolen, she’s in a position to say to others your story is my
story and our voices are the same. She doesn’t make any assumptions
about other’s experiences, but assures them their voices are as
important as anyone else’s, including hers.
Aziza Brahim has
created a CD of heartrending beauty which speaks to the plight of
refugees everywhere without descending into the mire of politics.
Instead of pointing fingers or blaming anybody, she has focused on the
results of the world ignoring oppressed people everywhere. While this
impressive in itself, Soutak is also an example of the simple and
elegant way in which musical traditions can be combined and blended to
create a sound which doesn’t compromise or insult anyone’s culture.
There aren’t many people who speak for the voiceless among us, but here
is one record which does so with intelligence and integrity.
Se cercate un disco da
affiancare all’ultimo, fresco di stampa, dei Tinariwen… beh, lo avete
trovato. Le voce di Aziza ha dell’incredibile: copre idealmente una
fascia sonora che parte dal deserto del Sahara e lambisce nientemeno che
la Spagna mozarabica. Fra i due estremi di quest’arco, c’è tutta la
poesia delle canzoni che ascolterete: un intrecciarsi continuo di
sonorità nordafricane (in special modo algerine e marocchine) marchia a
fuoco le struggenti interpretazioni di questa ex profuga-bambina. A
volte, poi, si incappa in veri e propri blues del deserto: tipo in Espejismos
(cantata in spagnolo), che ruba ai maestri delle dodici battute
l’intensa semplicità di un racconto intimo e dolente. Amore, morte,
abbandono, sofferenza: è tutto quello che troverete in questo disco,
sublimato da uno straordinario lirismo, degno dell’interprete più
navigata ma anche più profonda. Il mio consiglio è questo: provate a
fare un viaggio in queste acque, perché sebbene all’apparenza turbolente
e insidiose, sapranno regalarvi emozioni che non dimenticherete così
facilmente. Almeno, così è successo a me. Questo disco ha la capacità di
ridurre all’osso l’ossessività ritmica tipica delle musiche
nordafricane, senza per questo perdere in mordente: anzi, accentuando
ancor di più il lirismo. Un disco per molti, ma non per tutti. Un disco
per chi non ha paura dei propri fantasmi. Massimo Padalino
"The music is not only an artistic expression,
but also a megaphone for the cause, narrating the drama of the people
discriminated and without the state ... The voice of the people that we
must listen to!"
Chissà se tra le giovani sahraoui incontrate a metà degli anni ’90
durante un mio viaggio a Cuba, sulla spiaggia di Bibijagua dalla
meravigliosa arena negra, nell’Isla de la Juventud, c’era anche Aziza
Brahim. Sicuramente l’artista nata in un campo profughi in Algeria nel
1976 nei pressi di Tindouf (un anno dopo l’occupazione marocchina dei
territori dell’ex possedimento spagnolo), all’epoca studentessa
nell’isola caraibica, con le sue connazionali condivideva fierezza e
dignità, senso di appartenenza ad un popolo in lotta, consapevolezza
visionaria di studiare nell’isola internazionalista non per ambizione
personale ma per il futuro del Western Sahara, ancora oggi reclamante
un’indipendenza che è negata, nonostante le risoluzioni dell’ONU. Dal
2000 Aziza vive a Barcellona, mentre la sua famiglia è ancora in un
campo di rifugiati nel deserto algerino. La musica, che ha vissuto
intensamente sin da piccola nelle riunioni familiari, oggi è diventata
espressione artistica ma anche megafono per la rivendicazione, che è al
contempo politica e identitaria, per narrare il dramma di un popolo
discriminato e senza stato. Negli anni in terra spagnola Aziza partecipa
a diversi progetti, tra i quali quello con la band basca di txalaparta
Nomadak TX, è attrice e compositrice nel film “Wilaya” (2011), incide l’
EP “Mi Canto” (2008) e l’album “Mabruk” (2012, Reaktion) con il suo
gruppo Gulili Mankoo.
Chi già conosce la voce autorevole di Mariam Hassan, apprezzerà anche
questa cantante e autrice che con “Soutak” (significa “La tua voce”) si
erge ad interprete dei sentimenti del suo popolo, ma con una musicalità
che lascia da parte il profilo rock dell’album precedente, imprimendo al
lavoro un suono acustico a misura della sua voce robusta, che è il
cuore del disco. Con un quartetto di musicisti composto
dall’ispano-argentino Nico Roca (percussioni), il catalano Guillem
Aguilar (basso), il maliano Kalilou Sangare (chitarra acustica), sua
sorella Badra Abdallahe (cori), Aziza (voce, chitarra ritmica e tabal),
sotto l’egida del Dirtmusic Chris Eckman (già produttore dei Tamikrest)
ha registrato le nove tracce del suo nuovo CD in presa diretta nella
città catalana. “Soutak” si apre ad influenze maliane, spagnole e
latinoamericane; la poetica dell’artista riflette la malinconia e la
frustrazione ma anche la resilienza, le aspirazioni e i sogni di un
popolo dimenticato dai grandi della Terra. Musicalmente, il disco mette
insieme le esperienze artistiche della Brahim, con le influenze della
sua vita artistica, i modelli canori, come le grandi vocalist mauritane
Dimi Mint Abba (scomparsa nel 2011) e Malouma, il chitarrismo di Ali
Apre il disco la potente “Gdeim Izik”, canto di denuncia per la
distruzione del cosiddetto “campo della dignità” nei pressi dell’oasi di
Lemseid: una grande mobilitazione di protesta del popolo sahraoui
contro la discriminazione in ambito lavorativo e lo sfruttamento delle
risorse naturali del Sahara Occidentale repressa dall’esercito e dalla
polizia marocchina; “Julad” è una canzone dedicata a sua madre che
incarna simbolicamente la resistenza delle donne sahraoui (“Sei
l’essenza della mia vita e la sua forza/ Sei l’orgoglio nelle mie parole
che travalica le frontiere/ Resisti, immortale, resisti[…] Sei esempio
di umanità e lotta”. […]). Chitarre, basso e percussioni
accompagnano i tempi lenti di “Espejismos”, cantata in spagnolo. La
voce si erge fiera in “Lagi”, un lamento per la vita trascorsa in una
haimas, la tenda dei profughi. Il timbro secco del grande tamburo
tradizionale tabal, strumento tipicamente femminile, sostiene la voce
nella magnifica spirituale “Aradana”. Personale e politico si fondono
nelle calde note di “Soutak”, in cui ritorniamo nell’alveo della canzone
dalle sobrie coloriture pop, spagnole e nord maliane. Ne “La palabra”
gli ipnotici profili melodici chitarristici del deserto si fanno più
insistenti, punteggiando il canto, mentre le liriche sono pervase da un
senso di nostalgia. Invece, tinte flamenco ammantano “Manos Enemigas”.
Canto alla terra e aneliti di libertà in “Ya Watani” (“Guarda questi
occhi innocenti che scrutano il cielo desiderando di raggiungere
l’orizzonte dell’oceano […] Voglio vivere e danzare con tranquillità”
[…] ), brano che dà ampio spazio all’ugola di Aziza. La voce di un popolo da ascoltare!
Soutak, the second album by Sahrawi singer Aziza Brahim
has been one of the notable success stories of 2014 so far, albeit in a
quieter, under-the-radar sense. It may not have generated the publicity
of other albums released so far this year, but it is a collection of
lasting, impactful songs that have strong personal, social and political
It is perhaps the latter that form the primary focus of the album,
reflecting the issues surrounding Western Sahara, the disputed territory
in the north west of Africa. Brahim was born in a Sahrawi refugee camp
in Algeria in the late 1970s, and directly experienced the social
upheaval and personal tragedy caused by the Moroccan occupation of
Western Sahara (due to the ongoing conflict, she was never able to meet
Soutak also showcases Brahim’s sensuous and captivating vocals,
suggesting that we may soon have another name to add to the list of
African musicians to have made successful inroads into Western musical
circles. Yet, she doesn’t deserve to be uniformly grouped with other
African artists – her music retains a sense of individuality and
self-confidence, arguably born out of her time spent travelling and
living in other parts of the world. When younger she studied in Cuba,
and she currently lives in Spain.
We caught up with her to talk about her latest album, her approach to
making music, her background and contemporary Africa, amongst other
Can you tell us about the background to Soutak? How did the album come together? Had you worked on the songs for some time?
I had some ideas about the new songs I want compose, some issues that
were a concern for me. First, I created the lyrics, after that I made
the music. I’ve worked nearly of a year on these songs. After Mabruk, I
wanted to establish the tabal as a rich source for the desert blues. I
wanted to situate this instrument on the centre of the compositions and I
need to express my new tunes with an acoustic set.
Lyrically, the album is inspired by the political and
social issues relating to your home country of Western Sahara. How do
you find the process of incorporating these into your music?
I have to incorporate these political and social issues in the songs.
I can’t look to the side and sing about a disassociated reality. I
think the artists have a responsibility. It’s very important to me that
my lyrics talked about my surroundings. As the conflict has extended
over time I think it’s necessary to give it its prominence from the
For this album you are joined by a different group of
musicians to before. How did the band come together? Where was the album
When I arrived in Barcelona, I searched for musicians interested in
roots of music: folk, jazz, latin and blues. I was lucky to find the
musicians that recorded this album because they are very versatile, very
competent and very professional. Each one have some musical projects,
very good ideas and they’ve contributed to embellish Soutak. We
recorded this album in a week in June, at El Tostadero a little (but
very busy) studio, very close to the Park Güell. We recorded all the
songs like a live session. It was exciting to me because I contributed
to the album with the rhythm guitar and in some songs the Saharawi hand
drum, the tabal. The producer, Chris Eckman was so patient and so gentle
with us. He supervised very quietly each one of the recording sessions.
There seems to be a tangible sense of hope running through Soutak. Is this something you consciously tried to project?
The hope can be a trap, but if you haven’t hope you can’t grow,
because you fall into pessimism. Me or my people can’t allow that. I
want to project this sense of hope as strategy of resistance.
Your previous album Mabruk came with a text on the
Sahrawi people. Do you feel it is important to spread understanding and
knowledge of Sahrawi history?
The people that forget their beginnings, lose their identity. We all
know our history, we are aware what is our situation, and we know what
future we want for our descendents. We want to spread it and involve the
world in supporting our people.
Are there any ways in which you feel Soutak differs from Mabruk?
Mainly, they differ in the sound. Mabruk had a rockier, electric
sound and Soutak has a bluesy acoustic sound. But, in the lyrics too.
Mabruk had covers my grandmother, Ljadra Mint Mabruk, poems…Soutak, has
basically lyrics of mine. But, both have the same intention: to
contribute, to modernise, to update, the Saharawi’s millenary culture.
What are your main memories of your childhood in Western Sahara?
Mainly, I remember the supporting cohabitation with my large family
in the jaimas. I remember the hard food scarcity, the harsh climate
conditions and the government’s curfew that sometimes ordered emergency
alarms caused by the air attack danger, all the people running to the
trenches, the fear, the stress… But, I
have good memories, too. I remember the calling to the food
distribution and the morning calling to the school, all the children
went together. By night all the children of the neighbourhood met around
a large can to play drums and sing…
What role did music play in your childhood? Was there a particular moment when you realised you wanted to become a musician?
When I was a child, usually my family got together on Fridays to sing
El Medeh, traditional religious songs. The music was very important. In
my family each one played a percussion instrument or clapped their
hands or sang. After that we wanted to continue singing or making music.
As my grandmother is a great poet, she translated to me her love of
poetry and music. She ever encouraged me to sing because she praised my
voice. She gave me her poems to make tunes for. I feel I have to take
care of her legacy and to follow her good example.
Did you have any early musical influences? Are there any particular artists or people that inspire you now?
My earlier musical influences were Dimi Mint Abba, Um Kelzum, the
blues of Ali Farka Touré. And now they continue inspiring me but I have
more musical influences as Salif Keita, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Miriam Makeba…
The American blues like BB King, John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thorton,
How do you look back on your time in Cuba as a teenager?
Do you think you appreciated at the time what an unusual/significant
decision it was to study there?
For me, to study in Cuba in those times was a great luck. First of
all, because I went with my sister and my aunt, but after, because it
was a special opportunity to study, to learn Spanish, to know a
Did you have much exposure to the music and culture of the country?
I had a moderate exposure to the Cuban music and culture because at
the beginning I was so young and I lived in a boarding school with my
compatriots. Although with the passing of time I was got a bigger
exposure to its reality and its culture in which I ‘ve learnt a lot.
Anyway, I think it was a rewarding experience.
African music seems to be in particularly good health at
the moment with bands and artists like Tinariwen, Tamikrest, Rokia
Traoré and Amadou & Mariam achieving high levels of success and
critical acclaim, particularly in Europe. Do you feel part of a wider
musical family in any sense? Does the success of these artists provide
direct encouragement for you?
Of course, I celebrate this good health of African music. I think all
the musicians, especially popular musicians are a wide family, beyond
borders, ethnic groups or religions because we all talk an international
Is there a musical ‘scene’ as such in Western Sahara? Is music something that young people actively get involved in?
Yes, we have good musicians, good singers and great artists that are
references to the Saharawi youth that continues actively playing
Saharawi music, because the music is a way of escaping and fighting.
Unfortunately, we haven’t a Saharawi musical scene as such, because the
country is divided. In the occupied territories the musicians are
condemned to the “underground” by the censorship. In the refugee camps,
there are poor resources. We haven’t a market, a musical system as in
Europe because Western Sahara is an exiled country.
Last year Islamic rebel groups in Mali tried to ban and
restrict music. How do people in Western Sahara generally view this
situation? It must be of great personal concern to you that things like
this can happen?
The music is the power of the people for the Saharawis and in any
African country. To ban music is an attack on the people’s freedom of
expression. This is unacceptable for the Saharawi and the Malians, too,
because they became inhibited in the use of their own culture. It would
be a great personal concern to me if a thing like this happened.
How did you come to settle in Barcelona? In what ways do
you think that city and culture influences your music? Do you still
return to Africa often?
I came to Barcelona because it’s a city that I always liked. Here, I
can go to a concert of Salif Keita, Tinariwen, Tiken Jah Fakoly or
Chicuelo… in this way I think this cityinfluences my music. On the other
hand, the Catalan culture have lots of extraordinary artists. I am in continuous touch with my family in camps. I return to Africa when my work allows it.
In 2011 you worked on the film Wilaya, both in terms of
acting and producing the soundtrack. Are these roles you would like to
further pursue in the future?
Why not? I enjoyed a lot with this work, above all in the shooting.
But, my work is with music. In spite of this, I don’t rule out going
back to acting, I would like so much to make more film’s soundtracks. What plans do you have for the rest of 2014?
is a singer who has cleverly fused her indigenous musical heritage with
neighbouring Malian acoustic blues and Spanish flamenco." 4/5
Saharan music has tended to be promoted internationally via the roots
sounds of Tinarawen and the like, but Aziza Brahim is a singer who has
cleverly fused her indigenous musical heritage with neighbouring Malian
acoustic blues and Spanish flamenco. The result is a cohesive package
and a fine debut album on German label Glitterbeat. Although born in the
Western Sahara, Brahim was part educated in Cuba thanks to an exchange
scheme and since 2000 has been resident in Barcelona. It is this
cosmopolitan upbringing that has opened her eyes and ears to other
sounds and exploring how they might compliment her own. Early musical
experiments took place while Aziza Brahim was part of a band called
Gulili Mankoo that released two albums on the French label Reaktion.
Brahim has subsequently performed in her own right at the Caceres
version of Womad in 2012 and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in
2009. What really comes across on this debut solo recording is the
beautiful melodic nature of the music that wins you over after repeated
listens. Brahim sings in both Spanish and Arabic and the gentle, relaxed
pace overall is typified by a song such as ‘La Palabra’ (The Word)
which features some lovely acoustic rhythm guitar. Aziza Brahim has
clearly soaked up myriad influences and these can be heard in parts of
the album as on ‘Julud’ where he voice sounds a little like a female
equivalent of Salif Keita, the flamenco-flavoured ‘Manos Enemigas’ where
there are clear parallels with Souad Massi and which is a number that
changes gear completely in the second half and develops into an uptempo
groove of a piece. She repeats the stylistic transition on the more
traditional sounding ‘Lagi’ which has echoes of Malian music while on
the Arabic language song ‘Andana’ she is accompanied solely by
percussion. It has to be said that her phrasing in Spanish is quite
exquisite and conjurs up parallels with Nat Cole when recording his
Cuban albums. With proper promotion, this new album may just take off in
Spain. Inner sleeves lyrics are handily printed in Arabic, English and
Spanish with the usual Glitterbeat flair for visual graphics. Tim Stenhouse
"There are few albums that will affect you the
way that Soutak does. Original and gorgeous, and a very very talented
The new album from Aziza Brahim features a mixture of
Malian, Spanish and Cuban cultures. Louder Than War’s Paul
Scott-Bates is enthralled. It’s certainly an interesting proposition, a singer with Saharan
roots who then moved on to Cuba and Spain whilst being refused the
chance to follow a degree in music along the way. Not only that but
being produced by Glitterbeat founder and original member of The
Walkabouts, Chris Eckman, is something rather special given that
another of his projects, Dirtmusic,
received 10/10 from Louder Than War for last year’s Troubles album. Aziza
Brahim was born amongst Saharawi refugee camps along the line of
Algeria and Western Sahara. With obvious political oppression, she
moved to Cuba to further her education. Despite the refusal of her
music degree she went back to Algeria and then to Barcelona where she
founded Gulili Mankoo, a group with roots both in Saharawi and Spain.
Soutak (translated as Your Voice) was recorded live and focuses on
her striking voice which is mesmerizing and beautiful and sings
lyrics which are both intimate and universal. Despite words of
incredible power, the tracks are woven together by her exceptional
knowledge of song and sound.
Dedicated to her mother, standout track Julud, describes an
undying belief in the Saharawi political struggle – ‘You are an
example of humanity and of fight’. One of many tracks on the album
with a familiar sound as though you’ve heard them many times
before. Julud is haunting in its simplicity and the musicianship is
The Spanish element is obvious with some lovely acoustic guitars
and tracks like Aradana showcase the extraordinary voice perfectly
backed only by percussion and multiple voices towards the end. Again,
the lyrics are powerful but retain the mystique and beauty throughout
– ‘one day a storm came and took him away. Calmness reigned in
the circle of tents and beyond
The title track too is stunning. Inventive music and angelic voice
carry the tune from start to finish. Articulate guitar work and a
lovely melody make this as enthralling as anything you will hear this
year. For over two minutes, album closer Ya Watani (My Land) is
nothing more than Aziza and her amazing voice. Subtle hypnotic
guitars then come into effect to accompany her dulcet tones.
There are few albums that will affect you the way that Soutak
does. Original and gorgeous, and a very very talented singer.
Soutak bedeutet so viel wie „deine Stimme“. Aziza
Brahim hat gelernt ihre Stimme zu erheben, denn sie ist eine Stimme der
Sahrauis, die seit Jahrzehnten für einen unabhängigen Staat in der
Westsahara kämpfen. Geboren wurde Aziza Brahim 1976 in einem
Vor fünf Jahren veröffentlichte sie ihre erste EP,
2012 erschien dann ihr Debutalbum "Mabruk", eine Mischung aus
traditioneller afrikanischer Musik und Blues: Afroblues also, den Aziza
mittlerweile zu einem ganz eigenen, eklektischen Sound weiterentwickelt
hat. An der Stelle muss man das mal sagen: Es ist ein großes Verdienst
manch engagierter europäischer Labelbetreiber, diesen seit einigen
Jahren immer populärer werdenden „Wüstenbands“ wie Tamikrest oder
Tinariwen oder eben auch einer Aziza Brahim Gehör zu verschaffen. Mit so
einer Musik zieht man zwar nicht in die Charts ein,
Album-Veröffentlichungen sind jedoch nicht zuletzt das Resultat
politischen Engagements: Gut für diese Musiker, aber auch gut für uns.
Der moderne Sound der Nomadenvölker klingt momentan spannender denn je
und „Soutak“ ist der beste Beweis dafür.
"This second album from Spanish based Saharawi (Western Saharan) singer Aziza Brahim more than fulfils the promise of her debut ... This one puts Ms Brahim in the desert blues premier league." fRoots Magazine
"Soutak – a voice for the voiceless – tells of
injustice, oppression, loss and resistance, eloquently and poetically
expressed. Singers from the region often have a harsh and wild edge to
their sound, but Aziza – her style modulated perhaps
by her travels and her current residency in Spain – has an easy-paced
and internationalised sound that doesn’t scare the horses." ★★★★
Aziza Brahim: Soutak
Born and raised in the refugee camps outside the disputed territory of Western Sahara, Aziza Brahim has much to be angry about. Soutak
– a voice for the voiceless – tells of injustice, oppression, loss and
resistance, eloquently and poetically expressed. Singers from the region
often have a harsh and wild edge to their sound, but Aziza – her style
modulated perhaps by her travels and her current residency in Spain –
has an easy-paced and internationalised sound that doesn’t scare the
horses. The vocals are central and authoritative, the melodies
memorable, and the band of acoustic guitar, bass and percussion (from
Mali and Spain) solid and supportive. Gdeim Izik is a fierce condemnation of prison camps, the voice-and-drum Aradana a tale of loss, and Ya Watani a moving statement of aspirational nationhood. glitterbeat.com
haunting vocals at times recall those of Arabic fusion diva Natacha
Atlas, with a mood that captures both desert bleakness and uplifting
triumph ... This beautiful acoustic album transcends cultural
"The curious world music fans will discover a lot on that album"
Aziza Brahim: Soutak
Det är så mycket världsmusik något bara kan vara, och både den inbitne
diggaren och den nyfikne har mycket att upptäcka och uppleva på Soutak.
Aziza Brahim har sina rötter i Västsahara, och hennes musik är i mycket
lik den ökenblues som har varit omåttligt populär i väst i ganska många
år. Men även om Aziza Brahims musik har samma sugande rytmer och ödsliga
melankoli som exempelvis Tinariwen, Bombino och Toumani Diabaté är den
också tydligt uppblandad med musik från hennes nya hemland Spanien, och
inte helt utan doft från den folkmusik från Kap Verdeöarna. Det är med
andra ord så mycket världsmusik något bara kan vara, och både den
inbitne diggaren och den nyfikne har mycket att upptäcka och uppleva på
"Through her music, she is trying to re-awaken awareness in this seemingly forgotten conflict. Aziza Brahim
has a sonorous voice with just a touch of desert grit, accompanied here
by an acoustic band of guitars, electric bass, percussion and tabal,
the Saharawi hand drum ... Hers is certainly a voice worth hearing."
la chanteuse sahraouie Aziza Brahim sort l'album soutak
Après son EP "Mi canto" en 2009, la poète et chanteuse Sahraouie Aziza Brahim Maichan sortait l'album "Mabruk"
en 2012 aussitôt en sélection fip. Artiste engagée, elle a épousé avec
exaltation la cause sahraouie. Un engagement poétique et politique que
l'on retrouve dans son nouvel album "Soutak" sorti sur le label Glitterbeat Records.
La chanteuse Aziza Brahim est née dans les campements de réfugiés
proches de Tindouf, en Algérie. En exil depuis toujours cette artiste a
commencé ses tournées avec le Groupe National Sahraoui puis avec Leyuad.
Après des études à Cuba, elle s'installe en Espagne en 2000 et rejoint
Yayabo Latin Jazz. En 2007 elle fonde son propre groupe Gulili Mankoo
avec qui elle sort "Mabruk". Pour son troisième disque Aziza Brahim
s'est entourée de musiciens maliens et barcelonais pour un son plus
épuré, plus acoustique afin de “faire ressortir le chant et souligner ce
que disent les textes”. Une musique très influencée par le blues malien
mettant en exergue la puissance émotionnelle de son chant magnifique
qui oscille entre pureté vocale et toute-puissance de
"Influenced by the Malian blues, Aziza Brahim
is highlighting the emotional power of her beautiful singing that
oscillates between purity and unlimited power of words and music."
journey has taken her from the refugee camps of the western Sahara to
Cuba and now to Barcelona. Soutak sets her commanding voice against the
fluid, bluesy Spanish-infected guitar work of the Malian Kalilou Sangare
and the central pulse of Brahim's own tabal, a Saharan hand-drum. The
songs deal with the refugee experience, with artillery fire, and desert
sands full of landmines." ★★★★
"Where Tamikrest, Bombino or Tinariwen
approach the blues via the detour of rock music with distorted electric
guitars, Aziza Brahim leads her way for blues, not on rock, but on
Spanish and Latin American folk music. 'Soutak' is desert blues and the
anger is intimate and fragile."
Aziza Brahim: Soutak (Glitterhouse)
Wenn man im Atlas mit dem Finger die Küste von Nordafrika in Richtung
Süden verfolgt, dann kommt man ungefähr auf Höhe der Kanarischen Inseln
auf ein schraffiertes Gebiet: Das ist die Westsahara. Dort ist Aziza
Brahim in einem Flüchtlingscamp aufgewachsen. Mittlerweile wohnt sie in
Barcelona, in ihrer Musik ist die Heimat aber immer präsent. "Gdeim
Izik" ist der Titel des Openers von Brahims zweitem Album "Soutak". Es
ist der Name eines Protestlagers der Sahraui, der Bewohner der
Westsahara, nahe der Grenze zu Marokko. 2010 wollten die Sahraui mit
diesem Camp für die Unabhängigkeit der Westsahara von Marokko
demonstrieren. Das Camp wurde nach kurzer Zeit von marokkanischen
Sicherheitstruppen gestürmt, die Anführer wurden vor ein Militärgericht
gestellt. "Gdeim Izik" ist Aziza Brahims persönliches Denkmal an diesen
Moment, der von der Weltöffentlichkeit unbeachtet, den Beginn des
arabischen Frühlings markierte.
Issue d’une génération déracinée qui
n’a jamais eu l’occasion de fouler la terre de ses ancêtres et vit en
exil, la chanteuse sahraouie Aziza Brahim s’est chargée de reprendre en
musique le flambeau de la révolte poétique porté par sa grand-mère. A
travers Soutak, son troisième disque, elle donne à sa mission un ton plus acoustique.
“Le temps défile comme les kilomètres sur une autoroute, mais c’est
un voyage irréversible. Si les choses ne sont pas réglées bientôt, cela
fera quarante ans que nous, le peuple du Sahara Occidental, aurons pris
cette route, depuis que notre pays a été envahi, ravagé, volé.” En quelques lignes, en guise d’introduction au livret qui accompagne le CD de son nouvel album Soutak,
Aziza Brahim plante le décor. La chanteuse trentenaire a épousé la
cause sahraouie avec une détermination qui confère à sa musique une
dimension autre qu’artistique.
Le sang de la révolte, mais aussi celui de la poésie, coule dans ses veines par hérédité. Mabruk,
son précédent album paru en 2012, rendait hommage à sa grand-mère,
Ljadra Mint Mabrouk, que ses compatriotes connaissent pour ses poèmes et
son exaltation du sentiment patriotique. L’illustre aïeule a d’ailleurs
fait l’objet d’un épisode de la série documentaire Poets in Protest diffusée
l’an dernier sur Al-Jazeera, revenant sur la situation dans laquelle se
trouve ce territoire dont la superficie équivaut à la moitié de la
France, situé entre le Maroc au nord et la Mauritanie au sud, bordé par
l’océan Atlantique à l’ouest et partageant ses frontières à l’est avec
le Mali et l’Algérie.
Autrefois colonie espagnole, le Sahara occidental est occupé dans sa
très grande majorité par le Maroc qui y revendique et exerce sa
souveraineté, en dépit de l’opposition armée menée par le Front
Polisario avant qu’un accord entre les belligérants soit signé,
prévoyant un référendum d’autodétermination dont l’organisation a
toujours été repoussée par le royaume chérifien.
La musique pour s’amuser
Aziza est née en Algérie, près de Tindouf, où elle grandit avec ses neuf frères et sœurs. “Je
pensais que cet endroit était mon pays. Je ne savais pas que c’était un
camp de réfugiés. L’innocence d’un enfant s’avère parfois appropriée
pour résister, se protéger dans les contextes les plus durs. Comme on
n’avait pas de jouets, on faisait de la musique pour s’amuser. Le jeu
consistait à faire des chansons avec les poèmes de ma grand-mère. Ma
mère et elle ou d’autres femmes du voisinage formaient le jury. Je
faisais tout mon possible pour gagner”, confie-telle, rappelant au
passage avoir vécu ses premières expériences musicales lors de ces
vendredis où les familles musulmanes se rassemblaient pour prier et
chanter les louanges au Prophète.
Si elle commence à faire entendre sa voix dans les récitals avec sa
grand-mère, c’est à Cuba – où elle est envoyée à onze ans pour suivre
ses études secondaires – qu’a lieu sa première prestation en solo.
Devant ses camarades d’école sahraouis, elle interprète une chanson du
Libanais Walid Toufic. “J’ai écouté Ali Farka Touré, mais aussi Warda, Oum Khalsoum, Salif Keita. Je me souviens du raï : Cheb Khaled, Cheikkha Rimitti, Cheb Mami… Du reggae, avec Bob Marley et Alpha Blondy
et des cassettes arabes que mon oncle rapportait d’Alger. Et aussi de
Dimi Mint Abba, la référence du haul (la musique traditionnelle, NDLR),
avec Malouma”, liste la jeune femme qui joue des percussions, comme sa mère et ses sœurs.
De La Tierra derrama lagrimas à Soutak
Forte de toutes ces influences, elle se met à composer ses propres
titres lorsqu’elle retourne au milieu des années 1990 sur le sol
africain, huit ans après l’avoir laissé. Son style ne tarde pas à
attirer l’attention, à l’échelle locale. Avec La Tierra derrama lagrimas,
devenu un morceau phare de son répertoire, elle remporte le premier
prix du concours organisé dans le cadre du festival culturel de la
République arabe sahraouie démocratique, État fantôme créé par les
Tout en étant enrôlée au sein de l’ensemble national sahraoui avec
lequel elle part en tournée dans les pays voisins, elle fait ses
premiers enregistrements, qui atterrissent sur des compilations
remarquées, et monte un groupe baptisé Leyuad pour l’accompagner sur
les scènes de France, d’Allemagne et d’Espagne, son nouveau pays de
résidence. L’équipe changera en 2006 pour devenir Gulili Mankoo,
formation afro-latino. Le son d’Aziza se fait résolument moderne.
Cette fois, pour Soutak, son nouveau disque conçu à
Barcelone et emballé par le producteur américain Chris Eckman (Samba
Touré, Tamikrest…), elle a eu envie de revenir à un mode plus
traditionnel, acoustique afin de “faire ressortir le chant et souligner ce que disent les textes”. Avec en filigrane un second objectif : voyager, en partant de sa culture pour aller vers celle du Mali, “le plus naturellement, sans problème, parce que ce sont des cultures proches”.
Aziza Brahim’s life has followed a less familiar path than most,
taking her from her West African Sahrawi roots over the Atlantic to Cuba
and back, before eventually placing her in Barcelona where she
currently lives. Her story is inextricably linked to the history and
politics surrounding the disputed territory of Western Sahara and the
ensuing social displacement and geographical resettlement she has
experienced (inevitably) strongly informs her music.
Yet, for all the difficulties addressed on Soutak, musically it is
defined by an effortless, near-pacific glide partly attributable to the
deftly effective instrumentation but primarily to her exquisite voice.
Brahim’s vocal delivery is perfectly judged throughout, never being in
any danger of over exertion or conveying undue or excessive passion. It
is nowhere better seen than on Gdeim Izik which gets the album underway
in quietly sizzling fashion. It suggests that despite the global
dimension to her lifestyle it is the music of West Africa that firmly
remains her starting point. The sweetly dexterous guitar playing is
suggestive of Tinariwen and the vocal trills that follow later on recall Tamikrest
(whose second album Chatma was also released on Glitterbeat last year).
The fact that, lyrically it concerns some of the more violent episodes
of the 1970s Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara makes it all the more
remarkable an opener.
It also offers swift proof that while Mabruk, her 2011 album,
established the core components of her music, Soutak refines and
consolidates them, resulting in a stronger album overall. Second track
Julud furthers the political dimension of the album but, as shown by its
dedication to Brahim’s mother, has a more personal feel to it.
Tracks like Espejismos and Aradana may be slower but in their own way
are equally alluring (the latter sees Brahim impart her vocals over
nothing but bare percussion). It is followed by the sunshine-infused
Soutak, made to sound even warmer here by being placed straight after
the stripped-back spiritualism of Aradana. Importantly, the title track
is one of several songs on the album that as well as their personal or
political message also boast memorable tunes. This short sequence of
tracks demonstrates how the album maintains a sensuous, consistent flow,
despite the subtle differences in pace and mood.
The flamenco-tinged Manos Enemigas best reflects the Spanish
influence gained from her current place of residence, although a sense
of vivacious flair is also present to a lesser degree on the gently
lulling Lagi earlier in the album. A tangible sense of longing meanwhile
rolls through La Palabra and the album closes on a similar note with Ya
Watani, another track built on sparse instrumentation and a simple,
focused message. It returns the album full circle and brings Brahim back
to her origins (the title translates as ‘the birthplace’ in Swahili).
Soutak is a strong musical statement from an artist approaching what
may prove to be the peak of her powers. It reflects the sadness and
frustration of a people denied but, delivered with such indefatigable
intent and rich beauty, also contains seeds of hope and glimmers of
optimism that will never be fully extinguished.