Artist Profiles: Hasna El Becharia

Hasna el Becharia
Hasna el Becharia

Hasna el Becharia is a female Gnawa multi-instrumentalist. She was born in 1951 in Béchar (formerly known as Colomb-Béchar, a garrison town during the time of the French colonization). This town in southwestern Algeria is a fertile musical ground, with styles such as Diwan, Foundou and the popular Haddawi repertoire to celebrate Arab-Berber weddings of this sub-region.

The daughter and grand-daughter of Gnawa musicians, she plays popular Saharan traditional songs and personal compositions. In 1972, she began to play by herself. With three friends of hers, including Zorah and Kheira who are still singing by her side, singing and playing drums and tambourines. Hasna played traditional desert tunes on the acoustic guitar. They became successful very quickly, playing at weddings, banquets, etc. Everybody wanted to hear Hasna and her pals. During their performance, people sang along all the songs. It was so noisy that Hasna began to play the electric guitar to be heard. At that moment, she became really famous. Beyond the little town of Bechar, her name was known all over the south of Algeria. Algerian producers tried to make her record some tunes on a tape recorder, but she refused because she didn’t trust them.

In less than 4 years, Hasna and her band built their own legend. In 1976, they were the guest stars of a great concert in Bechar, organized by the Union of Algerian Women, in front of a female audience.

She arrived in France in January 1999 when she was invited to a festival called “Women of Algeria. She was one of the two new-comers who emerged from this festival. Fascinated by her music, the organizers of the festival decided to put her on stage every night, although it was originally planned that she would only play one evening. Quickly, rumors spread throughout Paris about this incredible female guitar player from the desert. Journalists and producers showed up and the prestigious French newspaper Libération published an article about her.

Hasna decided to stay in Paris because her situation was too difficult in Algeria. In spite of singing about the Prophet, she did not conform with tradition. She is too free and does not accept the old fashioned patriarchal customs that still rule in her country.

The guimbri and karkabas (two instruments masterfully played by Hasna) are the pillars of North African black music. Hasna creates a powerful and rough guimbri sound and she has an astonishing sense of rhythm.

Like numerous Algerian Gnawa musicians, Hasna takes her roots in the popular wedding repertoire. In addition to guimbri and karkabas, she plays electric guitar, ud, darbuka, bendir and even banjo. At the age of 51, Hasna recorded her first album. She composed the majority of her songs in France. By no means corrupted by stage or studio performance, she took advantage of these new experiences to explore the sound of guitars, vocal timbres on different tonalities, to improvise and make new encounters. In order to make her recording, the producers brought together great musicians from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Niger.

Discography:

Djazaïr Johara (Label Bleu, 2001)
Smaa Smaa (2010)

Part of the biography edited from a text by Camel Zekri. Courtesy of Magali Berges.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. He was also the executive producer of the first Latino feature film made in North Carolina titled “Los sueños de Angélica.”.

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