Sahrauis, Music of Western Sahara


Sahrauis (Saharawis)
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 were

Mariem 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.

Buy Music of Western Sahara.


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