El Aaiún Egdat (El Aaiún on Fire) is the title of the new CD by Sahrawi music star Mariem Hassan. The album will be available in late March on the Nubenegra label, which is well known for its support of Sahrawi music. This time, Mariem Hassan is accompanied by Vadiya Mint El Hanevi on tebals (large bowl drums) and backing vocals, Luís Giménez on electric guitar, mbira and harmonica; Hugo Westerdahl on bass; and Gabriel Flores on sax and flutes.
In 2012 Mariem Hassan gives her music a new twist. The events of the past months, known as the “Arab Spring” and the indomitable Sahrawi struggle for independence, are the subjects of her new songs.
Rooted in the foundation of the Haul, Mariem explores blues, jazz and contemporary sounds as no other Sahrawi musician ever has. The album, El Aaiún Egdat (El Aaiún on Fire), embodies her fresh stylistic exploration. El Aaiún is the largest city in the Western Sahara, currently occupied by Morocco.
Haul is the traditional Sahrawi music, developed from many different influences: North African Berber, Middle Eastern Arabic, Sudanese (brought by the caravans crossing the Saharan desert from one end to another) and the sub-Saharan black music brought from the South. Haul is ruled by a modal system, consisting of five scales, subdivided in major and minor.
Mariem Hassan’s group is characterized by its love and knowledge of the music of Western Sahara. Luis Gimenez (from Villena, Alicante in eastern Spain), first heard the scales and the rhythms of Haul music during his visit to the Sahrawi refugee camps a few years ago, which inspired his documentary The Seas Of The Desert. Gabriel Flores from Mexico, is one of the directors of Enamus, the first national music school in the Sahrawi refugee camp “February 27”. Hugo Westerdahl, from the Canary Islands, met many musicians from Western Sahara while they were recording their albums for the label Nubenegra at his Madrid studio called Axis. This experience infected him with an interest in haul music, eventually producing the album Western Sahara, in memory of Sahrawi guitarist, Baba Salama, who died in 2005.
“On her new album, Mariem integrates divergent themes and musical expressions into her traditional rhythms driven by the haul,” says Nubenegra owner and producer Manduel Dominguez. “Most arresting perhaps are the tracks El Aaiun Egdat, the two songs that refer to the Gdeim Izik camp, the Arab Spring or the Victory, whose verses are written by renowned Sahrawi poets in exile: Beibuh, Ali Bachir and Lamin Allal. Mariem’s voice signals the seriousness of the moment with all the passion only her throat and her heart can transmit.
Other tracks, such as Ana Saharauia (I’m Sahrawi) – a reaffirmation of her identity – and The Martyrs Rest in Peace – a jazz-tinged vision of the jaima (Sahrawi tent) tranquil beneath the warm moonlight in the desert – reveal a sweeter side to the lacerating vocals Mariem has offered us in the past.
Singular are also ‘Melfa,’ about her traditional clothing, and ‘The Legacy’ which offers Mariem´s perspective on the bloodless battles between tradition and modernity with which her culture has always grappled.”
The quintet of Mariem Hassan will begin touring El Aaiún On Fire in spring 2012.