Music of Western Sahara
(3 CDs and a book)
Nubenegra and Intuition Music & Media (1998)
In 1998, four European producers set out on an arduous journey and transporting recording equipment to the Sahara Desert to record traditional music of yesterday and today as interpreted by the Saharawis (also known as Sahrawis, Saharauis and Sahrauis) people of the exiled nation, Democratic Arab Republic of Sahara. Arriving at various locations in Algeria, the producers (Luìs Delgado, Alberto Gambino, Zazie Wurr and Manuel Domìnguez) spent 14 days traveling between Rabouni, Dakhla, Es Semara, Aswerd refugee camps and finishing their recordings in Madrid. They recorded some of Western Sahara’s finest musicians as well as, documenting the plight of the Saharawis through photographs and video footage.
This journey and the music are commemorated in a 3 CD box set and book. (The original 1998 release of Sahrauis also included a CD-ROM). However, only the two of the CDs, Despite All Wounds (featuring women vocalists) and Sahara My Land (featuring both men and women vocalist) derive from this 1998 journey to the Sahara Desert.
The third CD was actually produced in 1982 by Mohammed Tammy and released on the Spanish folk label, Guimbarda. Simply titled Polisario Will Win, this recording showcases the talent of the group, Màrtir Luali (named after the founder of the Polisario Front). The group was comprised of 14 vocalists, t’bal (large animal skin drum), guitar (lead and rhythm) and Saharawi drum. Other vocalists featured wereMariem Hassan, Teita Leibid, Mahfoud Aliyen and Hadhoum Abeid (all of them appear on the 1998 recordings). The ten tracks marry traditional Hawl with contemporary Western sensibility and all of the tracks revolve around the political struggle the Saharawis face and their hope for liberation. They are battle cries sung in Hassanija (Arabic dialect) and following Hawl structure.
Even so, the songs will sound familiar to non-Arab listeners, and at times, resembling rock music modulations. The songs might even take people back to a time when revolutionary anthems were imbedded in rock music. Yet, because these songs are based on traditional music structure, the appearance of the electric guitar only adds volume and does not adopt the Western idiom of rock music.
Fast forward to 1998, the Saharawis still reside in refugee camps while pursuing all diplomatic channels to return to the Western Sahara as liberated people. The songs that appear on Despite All Wounds and Sahara My Land could be called heart shattering poetry embellished with sonic guitars and wailing vocals, but on the other hand, ethereal songs featuring vocals and t’bal also
appear on the CDs. The songs revolve around hope for the future and despair for current strife. However don’t mistake these musicians for poster children for the cause of the day because anyone who could endure years of suffering and still keep their dreams in focus couldn’t be called victims nor would anyone think that after listening to this collection of songs. However the international community could pressure the Moroccan government to return the Western Sahara to the Saharawis.
My personal favorite is Despite All Wounds featuring women vocalists; backed by men and women musicians. One can hear the respect that the men have for the women who organized the camps and whose generosity has fueled hope in the men. And I also enjoy the acoustic duo, Aziza Brahim (vocals) and Tarba Bibo (t’bal and harmony) as well as, a Saharan Janis Joplin, Mariem Hassan backed by electric guitar compliments of Nayim Alal. However, other vocalists also provide impassioned vocals on this disc. Some of my favorite tracks are My God (a duet with Aziza and Tarba) a
devotional acoustic song, the ambient The Grave featuring Teita Leibid on vocals and producer Luis Delgado on e-bow guitar and The Earth Spills Tears, another duet with Aziza and Tarba.
Sahara My Land possesses similar musical qualities to Despite All Wounds, but mostly features male vocalists. Electric and acoustic guitars have replaced the traditional tindit (you will find that throughout the CDs, although the tindit does make appearances too) and bass guitar, keyboards and saxophone also augment the songs. By the time listeners have spun each CD a few times, they will begin to recognize the talent behind each song and distinct personalities and musical
preferences. This CD box set provides songs that could interests a broad audience, but especially a young audience. Although the song structure, rhythmic patterns, poetry and vocals derive from Saharawis tradition, Western instruments have seeped into the recording. As the Saharawi men and women struggle to preserve their culture through music, art and dance, they are slowly losing their old way of life. And in fact, many of their traditions that were tied into their former nomadic lifestyle have atrophied under former Spanish colonialism and after 28 years of exile where the Saharawis have resided in refugee camps. To further complicate matters, younger generations have studied and brought back influences from the outside (Latin America, Algeria, Europe) and this has also brought modern sensibilities to the Saharawis’ music.
The writers of the book that accompanies the CD set state. “The use of modern electric guitars, the constant trips abroad of the younger generation, the provisional living conditions on one hand and the extreme tenderness with which the Sahrauis maintain their form and traditions on the other, leads to a very peculiar situation within the sphere of their music as well as in other areas. Only time will tell what direction this development is going to take.”
Because the traditional music is so beguiling, I hope this music will be preserved for future generations and created at the Saharawis’ true home, the Western Sahara.