Mariem Hassan, ‘the voice of the Sahara,’ died of bone cancer on Saturday
Dubbed ‘the voice of the Sahara,’ the Saharawi singer Mariem Hassan has died of bone cancer aged 57. She was one of the most powerful performers from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and consistently helped draw attention to the plight of her people.
Born in 1958 near Smara in what was then Spanish Sahara, she relocated to the refugee camps in Algeria when Morocco took over Western Sahara in 1975. The following year she joined Shahid El Luali, a large group that travelled the world drawing attention to the situation of the Saharawi people. One of the albums of the group was included in Sahraouis: Music of the Western Sahara (Nubenegra, 1998), an excellent three-CD set ,which was a Top of the World in Songlines #1 featuring the music of Mariem Hassan and other singers.
Usually singing in Hassaniyya, the Arabic dialect of Western Sahara, Hassan started recording as a solo artist for the Spanish-based Nubenegra and moved to Spain in 2002. She released three powerful solo albums between 2005 and 2012 and performed at many of the major world music festivals including WOMEX, WOMAD and Babel Med. She chose to return to the Smara refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria to die in the Western Sahara. With her death, not only one of the most powerful voices of Western Sahara, but one of the most powerful voices of the world, has been lost.
Read a full obituary in the next issue of Songlines (November 2015 #112, on sale Oct 2).