Aziza Brahim – SoutakSoutak (GlitterBeat, 2014)
A collection of songs wrapping up the anguish of refugees, oppression and injustice on the surface might seem downright daunting, but Aziza Brahim’s debut recording Soutak out on the Glitter Beat label is anything but overwhelming. With the previous recordings Mi Canto, Wilaya and Mabruk at her back, Ms. Brahim has set out again to lend her voice to the harsh realities of many women in the world, using her own experiences growing up in a Saharawi refugee camp with her mother.
Ms. Brahim explains, “Aziza Brahim – Soutak can be translated as ‘your voice.’ It is the title of one of the songs on this record, a song that celebrates the expression of personal feelings, in contrast to the voice of my people, silenced, censored and gagged. This album contains songs about worries – intimate and collective – that take on universal dimension. For that very reason I wanted to make an approach towards the music of Mali, which has always fascinated me. This initial intention turned into an urgent need when, at the beginning of last year, attempts were made by the occupiers of Northern Mali to prohibit any form of musical expression.”
With lyrics that possess such a powerful and potent message, the music of Soutak comes across as sparely intimate, not simple by any stretch of the imagination, but personal. Providing vocals along with tabal and rhythm guitar Ms. Brahim is joined by vocalist Badra Abdallahe, guitarist Kalilou Sangare, electric bassist Guillem Aguilar, percussionist Nico Roca and rhythm guitarist Guillem Moreno. While the music flowers out from the Saharawi song tradition, Soutak sends out tendrils that embrace musical traditions from Mali, Cuba (where Ms. Brahim attended secondary school) and Spain (where she now lives.) It is with percussion and tabal that the listener gets that familiar feel of travel in the desert blues tradition.
Ms Brahim explains her approach to the Soutak’s sound by saying, “Feeling the need to make an acoustic record, I imagined a somewhat modest musical outline, which would not involve too many instruments and in which the voices would take the expressive emotional lead. I wanted to further explore the range of possibilities found in the Haul, the Saharawi’s traditional rhythmic sources, played on the tabal and a source of inspiration for the Desert Blues.”
Opening with “Gdeim Izik,” Soutak gives the listener a plummy dose of the Saharawi and desert blues laced by guitar and bass lines. Ms. Brahim offers up “Julud” in dedication to her mother on a track infused by Spanish and Cuban influences. A real treat is “Espejismos” with its heavy meaty beat surrounded by guitar and shakers as Ms. Brahim vocals float above the music. Other treats include “Lagi,” the splendidly spare “Aradana” with Ms. Brahim’s vocals against percussion and backing vocals and the sweetly soulful “Mano Enemigas.” “Ya Watani” stands out with its opening plaintive vocals against single bass notes before filling out as Ms. Brahim sings about “My Land.”
Aziza Brahim – Soutak is powerful in what it says and maintains that power with musical sparseness. It is the listener that is able to soar along to freedom and justice on the wings of Ms. Brahim’s vocals.