Posts Tagged ‘Aziza Brahim’

Aziza Brahim – voice of the resistance

Posted on April 26th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


Aziza Braham (© Guillem Moreno)

The Western Sahara has been the subject of  dispute for many decades. One of its most eloquent activists and singers, Aziza Brahim, talks to Violeta Ruano about life in exile and how music and politics are inseparable 

Singer and percussionist Aziza Brahim was born in the Saharawi refugee camps in the harsh Algerian desert on June 9 1976; the same day as the death of Saharawi revolutionary leader El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed. Her mother, already pregnant with her while escaping the Moroccan military invasion of her Western Saharan homeland a few months earlier, gave birth in the unbearable heat surrounded by nothing but sand, humanitarian aid tents and war. Together with tens of thousands of other refugees, she had left behind a resource-rich territory with fisheries, pastures, agriculture and some of the largest phosphate reserves in the world. Aziza’s father stayed in the capital city of Laayoune, controlled by the authoritarian regime of Moroccan king Hassan II. A 2,720km-long military wall – the longest in the world – built by the Moroccan army across the Saharawi land, and protected by over eight million landmines, ensured the singer would never get to meet her father before his death. Today Western Sahara – an ex-Spanish colony – is listed by the UN as the last territory in Africa still pending decolonisation, while the Saharawis on both sides of the wall desperately await for a self-determination referendum.

Family separation, struggle and survival – key elements in the Saharawi’s recent history – are all recurrent themes in Aziza’s music, even though she now lives and composes in Barcelona, Spain. As she states defiantly: “living in the diaspora does not make me alien to the situation of my people.” This is certainly the case of her new album, Abbar el Hamada (Across the Hamada). Through a collection of ten bluesy, almost hypnotic tunes, Aziza immerses the listener directly into the Saharawi reality. Singing in Hassaniya – her native Arabic dialect – and Spanish, she praises their lost land (‘Mani’), their spirit of resistance (‘Intifada’) and the important role of women in the revolution (‘Baraka’). In an attempt to connect with other struggling communities, she also references current worldwide experiences of migration, refuge and confinement (‘Los Muros’). It is a “conversation,” she describes, “a discussion between emigrants, refugees and stationaries… between nomads and the sedentary; between Saharan, sub-Saharan, North Saharan and Saharawis.”

The ‘hamada’ Aziza musically takes us through refers to the stretch of rocky terrain in south-west Algeria – locally known as the Devil’s Garden – that has sheltered the Saharawi refugees for over 40 years. Anybody who has crossed this barren territory, either on camel or inside a four by four, can relate to the singer’s belief that it’s “the ideal territory for the blues; a never-ending source of sorrow and sadness. We’ve been able to survive there only due to the perseverance of our just cause.” Led by the Polisario Front, the Saharawis’ liberation movement, they have cleverly used their waiting time to construct their own nation in exile. Life is hard in the hamada, however, where schools, hospitals and humanitarian projects consistently fight against extreme temperatures, sandstorms, the occasional devastating rainfall (such as in late 2015), and a chronic lack of resources. It’s only through the strong belief in a fair solution to their conflict that the Saharawis keep going. This has fuelled the development of a unique crossroads in musical culture, based on the oral traditions of the region modernised through the use of the electric guitar, and almost entirely dedicated to the promotion of their self-determination struggle.

Aziza Brahim (© Stefano Buonamici)

Aziza Brahim (© Stefano Buonamici)

As she humbly admits, Aziza first became interested in music because there was nothing else to do as a refugee when she was a child. “It was the main way of having fun during my childhood,” Aziza tells me. “The games my family proposed were always musical. I competed with my sisters to compose the best songs before a family jury, always with the percussion.” Most women in Aziza’s family are also talented musicians and poets who have participated in the cultural life of the refugee camps for years. During the revolution, her mother became part of the first Saharawi national music band Shahid El Uali (named after their deceased leader), together with famous Saharawi voices such as Mariem Hassan, while her grandmother, Lkhadra Mabruk, is a well-known poet who documented the 16 years of war that followed the occupation through her verse.

Indeed, Lkhadra has been a great inspiration for Aziza throughout the years. “When I was a child, I played to musicalise my grandmother’s poems,” remembers the singer. “It was an honour to learn from her.” In 2012, Aziza named her debut album Mabruk in her grandmother’s honour, and included a version of five of her stunning poems. I meet Lkhadra in their family house in Laayoune, one of the five residential camps. She is a small but energetic woman who still recites from memory most of her compositions, as well as hundreds of lively family anecdotes. “All the children in my family are encouraged to play music and learn stories. But since the beginning, Aziza wanted to be a famous singer,” recounts Lkhadra with a tinge of pride in her voice. “She would go to every concert, every performance, learning very quickly. But she had to fight hard.”

Aziza’s life has been marked by movement, in a way paying homage to her nomadic roots. She left the refugee camps as a teenager to study in Cuba, thanks to an agreement between the Saharawi and Cuban governments that allowed young refugees to receive an education far away from the war. While on the island, Aziza sang as often as possible, although when she was denied a scholarship to study music, she decided to return to the desert. It was the mid-90s, the war was over, and new opportunities were opening up. Aziza joined a regional band, perfecting her knowledge of the Saharawi national repertoire. In 1995, she won the first prize of a local competition with her song ‘La Tierra Derrama Lágrimas’, which became one of her hits later on. A few years later, she participated in the triple album Sahrauis: The Music of the Western Sahara, released by the Spanish label Nubenegra. The young singer then became part of the band Leyoad, touring Europe in the late 90s, and finally settling in Spain in 2000.

Since then, Aziza has been continuously developing her musical style, absorbing and combining any influences that have come her way. She has fused her Saharawi roots with styles as diverse as jazz, rock, Spanish popular music, Afro-Latin rhythms and the blues, touring internationally with her band Gulili Mankoo and on her own. She usually composes her own lyrics and music, adapting the melodies that she imagines to the subjects she wants to highlight. “I know my musical traditions and I respect them, but I’m not interested in keeping their purity,” she confesses. “I choose to mix some of their elements with other sounds and see where that takes me.”

It appears that this strategy is taking her far. Some of her songs have been internationally acclaimed, such as ‘Wilaya Blues’ (from Mabruk, 2012), used on the soundtrack of the first Saharawi feature film Wilaya (Tears of Sand). This gave Aziza the Best Original Soundtrack prize at the 2012 Malaga Spanish Film Festival (among other awards), and the opportunity to debut as an actress. Her family, who follow her on social media and are in constant communication with her despite the camps’ internet limitations, are proud of Aziza and approve of her musical choices. As her grandmother acknowledges: “In this world that is constantly changing, if you want to get your message across, you have to innovate as well. If it hadn’t been for Aziza’s music, my poems would have never been heard abroad.”

It should then come as no surprise that the singer has been increasingly known as the new voice of resistance of the Saharawi people, as well as a cultural activist for their cause. Aziza’s response is clear: “For us, to say that you are who you are already means that you are an activist. In a situation of persecution, the most mundane thing, such as saying your nationality or wearing the melhfa (traditional female cloth), is a political act. I can’t separate my political side from my cultural one.” Saharawi music is thus inextricably linked to their resistance struggle; one cannot exist without the other. And this is precisely what makes Aziza Brahim’s music a seed of hope in Western Sahara.

This article originally appeared in Songlines #116. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, visit:

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Aziza Brahim – Abbar el Hamada | Album Review | Top of the World

Posted on March 15th, 2016 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

Aziz Brahim-©Guillem Moreno-Free13

Words by Robin Denselow

Aziza Brahim - Abbar el Hamada Cover

A laidback kind of anger from the voice of the Saharawi

Since the death of the great Mariem Hassan, Aziza Brahim has become the most important voice for the Saharawi people, many of them still living in refugee camps in Algeria, exiled from the homeland that they have called ‘Occupied Western Sahara’ since it was invaded by Morocco in 1975. Aziza was born and raised in the bleak desert refugee camps, but left to study in Cuba before eventually moving to Barcelona. Her last album, Soutak, provided musical reminders of her travels, and became massively successful in Europe. It’s no surprise, then, that she is backed here by many of the same musicians, and the producer is once again Chris Eckman, known for his work with Bassekou Kouyaté and Tamikrest.

Aziza has a relaxed, cool voice and there’s an easy-going feel to many of the songs, despite the angry political lyrics. She’s at her best on the upbeat ‘Calles de Dajla’ and the bluesy lament ‘Mani’, on which she is joined by Malian blues guitarist Samba Touré. The final track, ‘Los Muros’, is a reflection on the vast wall built by the Moroccans to surround the territory. A little more of Hassan’s passion and grit would have been welcome, but it’s a classy, commercial set.

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Top of the World April 2016: The best new releases

Posted on March 4th, 2016 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

Our selection of the top ten new releases reviewed in the April (#116) issue.

Joan Soriano - Me decidí Cover

Joan Soriano
Me Decidí (iASO Records)
After a five-year wait since his previous solo release, Dominican singer and guitarist Joan Soriano is back with a new offering of joyous material. A fine return from the bachata maestro.

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Divanhana - Zukva Cover

Zukva (ARC Music)
The young Sarajevan band display an air of firm confidence, playing sevdah music with a flexible and dynamic approach on their first UK release.

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Maz O’Connor

The Longing Kind (Restless Head)
Maz O’Connor steps away from the folk songs that featured in her previous work, taking inspiration from life experiences, literature and art to create an intelligent and emotional album.

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Sahra Halgan Trio - Faransiskiyo Somaliland Cover

Sahra Halgan Trio
Faransiskiyo Somaliland (Buda Musique)
Somaliland’s Sahra Halgan is accompanied by a band of musical virtuosos on her new album, her first since returning to her homeland after a 23-year exile in France.

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4 panel Eco Wallet with no thumb (SLV 2.1.A) FINAL

Lotus Wight

Lotus Wight’s Ode to the Banjo (Lotus Wight)
Through musical interpretations of traditional Americana, Canadian artist Lotus Wight’s new album explores the history of the banjo via 13 tracks that make for a riveting listen.

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Aziza Brahim - Abbar el Hamada Cover

Aziza Brahim
Abbar el Hamada (Glitterbeat)
An important voice for the people of the Western Sahara, Aziza Brahim returns with a relaxed effort that continues to spur her message of political injustice and resistance.

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The Gloaming - 2 Cover

The Gloaming
2 (Real World Records)
With their critically acclaimed and commercially successful debut behind them, The Gloaming return with their second album – one that shows no signs of a sophomore slump.

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Varttina - Viena Cover

Viena (Westpark Music)
Finnish group Värttinä exceed expectations on their new album, executing strong vocal performances with relentless energy and stellar musicianship that results in an exciting release.

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Sainkho Namtchylak - Like a Bird or Spirit, Not a Face Cover

Sainkho Namtchylak
Like a Bird or Spirit, Not a Face (Ponderosa Music & Art)
Renowned throat singer Sainkho Namtchylak exhibits her versatile vocal ability alongside the rhythm section of Tinariwen in this cross-cultural hybrid of Touaregs and Tuvans.

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Anchorsong - Ceremonial Cover

Ceremonial (Tru Thoughts)
Inspired by African pop music of the 1970s, Tokyo-born electronic musician Anchorsong utilises polyrhythms and expansive textures to create a sonically cohesive second album.

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New issue (April 2016) on sale now!

Posted on March 4th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

Songlines April 2016 Issue

Saharawi singer Aziza Brahim; Finnish trio Värttinä; the Easter Rising centenary; Greek vocalist Savina Yannatou; and the Fluid Piano

The April (#116) edition is on sale in the UK from today. The free exclusive 14-track covermount CD features ten tracks from our latest Top of the World albums and a guest playlist by Noisettes frontwoman and bassist Shingai Shoniwa.

This issue also includes a bonus CD featuring a few of the finest acts to emerge from Silesia, one of the epicentres of Poland’s current folk revival.

Featured on the Top of the World CD are new tracks from Dominican bachata singer and musician Joan Soriano, American-Irish supergroup The Gloaming and English folk singer Maz O’Connor.

Aziza Brahim - Songlines April 2016


Aziza Brahim – We talk to the singer about life in exile and how music and politics are inseparable.
The Easter Rising Centenary – Chris Moss reports on the centenary of Ireland’s Easter Rising.
Värttinä – The Finnish group discuss the Karelian influences on their latest album.
The Fluid Piano – We speak to the new invention’s creator, Geoff Smith and Indian pianist Utsav Lal about its unique mechanisms and exciting potentials.
Savina Yannatou – The Greek vocalist tells us why her music has no borders.


Rokia Traoré - Songlines April 2016


Rokia Traoré – We provide a Beginner’s Guide to the Malian singer-songwriter who continues to push the boundaries with her choice of collaborators and producers.
Shingai Shoniwa – A playlist and interview with Noisettes frontwoman and bassist, who discusses the music she grew up with and how that helped shape her eclectic tastes.
Eliades Ochoa – We catch up with the Stetson-toting Cuban guitarist and chat about his life and plans after Buena Vista Social Club.

PLUS! Reviews of the latest CD, book and world cinema releases.

Click here to buy the new issue.

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