lunes, 8 de febrero de 2010


Special report: music and film in the Saharawi refugee camps

By Colin Murphy, 19/10/2009

I've just returned from a week in the Sahara, in the Polisario Front refugee camps in Algeria. The week was spent working on a documentary, which has just finished production, about the Western Saharan exile singer, Aziza Brahim.

Earlier this year, director Donal Scannell and I joined Brahim and her Spanish group, Gulili Mankoo, on tour in Spain (during which we stopped off at the Roman ruins in Merida and captured this spontaneous performance - also posted below); more recently, we were in London for the African Music Festival (for which the Independent interviewed Brahim). Last week, we travelled with her to visit her family in the refugee camps, on her first visit home in three years.

Brahim’s mother was pregnant when she fled Laayoune in Western Sahara, with her family, in 1975, following the Moroccan invasion. (The BBC's overview of this conflict is here.) She was born in the refugee camps, and grew up there, before being sent to Cuba for secondary school, along with many of her peers. She refused the option of pursuing third level in Cuba, and returned home to the camps, where she started to perform, taking first prize in an annual singing competition. She moved to Spain to pursue a singing career; there was an early hiatus, during which she quit, but when she started singing again more recently, she quickly found a measure of recognition and success both in Spain and on the world music circuit.

Her digital release ‘Mi Canto’ topped the world music chart on and she has rapidly acquired status as a cultural representative of the Saharawi people, alongside the renowned singer Mariem Hassan.

Scannell recorded Brahim’s September concert in London, and on Thursday last, it was given a public screening in one of the refugee camps, in a community hall. Though this screening was a largely spontaneous outcome of the ongoing process of making the documentary, it seemed to be one of some significance. Till now, Brahim had not had the opportunity to raise her profile, or to play her music, in the refugee camps. (Travel to the camps is complicated by cost – there are no direct flights – and by visa issues.) The public screening, which was coordinated by the Polisario Ministry of Culture, gave her the opportunity to firmly introduce her music to Polisario’s senior members and the Ministry of Culture itself, and to the Saharawi public.

The screening was publicised the previous night in the typical form in the camps – a loudspeaker announcement from a Ministry van. The screening took place in the morning, and the audience was almost entirely women. Those we spoke to spoke of being very proud of their compatriot, and of being excited to see Saharawi music being blended with foreign, modern influences, such as rock and blues. The official response was very enthusiastic, and they hope to replicate the screening in the many community halls throughout the camps, and hoped to broadcast it on Polisario radio and on the recently started tv station.

There is a skeleton market economy in the camps, which has arisen only in recent years, and there is no electricity supply: people use solar panels to charge car batteries, which they use to power lights and basic appliances such as a music player. Thus there is no formal market for distribution of music. What has arisen instead, though, is a bootleg, digital market: digital music is downloaded onto mobile phones, often from privately-run kiosks which also offer phone services, and people then pass these files from mobile to mobile via bluetooth.

Accordingly, Scannell made a low-res version of the Merida music video of Brahim and gave it to Brahim’s younger family members; as we left the camps, this was already seemingly hopping from phone to phone, and seemed to have the potential for going ‘viral’, providing perhaps as much potential exposure as the more formal distribution and publicity of screenings and broadcasts.

There is an annual film festival in the camps, and Scannell was encouraged to present his film on Brahim for inclusion next year. In the meantime, Brahim has been nominated for an international human rights prize. More on these to follow.

A number of Brahim’s songs are versions of poems in Hassania, her native language (a dialect of Arabic) by her grandmother, an acclaimed Saharawi poet, Ljadra Mint Mabruk. There is an article on her (in Spanish) here and a video of her reciting here. Brahim’s myspace page is here.

Scannell received Irish Aid ‘seed funding’ (via the Simon Cumbers Media Challenge Fund) to develop the documentary. (The seed funding strand is unusual – and very useful – in tv production funding, as it provides small amounts up front to allow a producer get started on a project, with almost no strings attached.)

Incidentally, Scannell came to Brahim’s music through that of the Touareg group Tinariwen, leading figures in 'desert blues'.

This time next week I'll file a further report on the interplay between migration and media issues in the Saharawi camps. Normal Migration Matters service - regular, shorter reports, will resume thereafter. As always, new readers can sign up for the email newsletter version here.

1 comentario:

Anónimo dijo...

me gusta este blog que habla de sahara y las personas del sahara porque yo soy de sahara de magoc dema sahra dema mgreb.