Mariem Hassan, one of the leading artists in the Saharawi music scene, passed away this morning, August 22, 2015, in the refugee camps near Tinduf (Algeria). “Mariem Hassan died this morning in the Saharawi refugee camps near Tinduf (Algeria), surrounded by her family,” said Manuel Dominguez, her longtime producer, manager and friend. Although she had been living in Spain for many years, she chose to spend her last days with her family in the refugee camps in the Sahara.
Mariem Hassan was born in 1958 in Ued Tazua in Smara in what was then the Spanish Sahara. She was the third of a total of 10 siblings of a nomadic camel and goat herding family.
Even though Mariem’s family was not an igawen (griot) family, music was an important part of their family life. Her father had a good voice but the artistic ability came from her mother’s side. Her aunt Zaina was a well-known singer and dancer, her uncle Bushad was a poet and her mother used to sing on birthday celebrations, weddings, and othe occasions. Among her brothers, Boika Hassan is a talented guitar player and Mohamed Salem, a poet.
In 1975, following Morocco’s Green March to occupy the Western Sahara and the Madrid Accords which ceded the territory to Morocco and Mauritania, Mariam traveled with her family, first to Mjeriz and later to the Saharawi refugee camps in Tinduf, Algeria, where she worked as nurse. She lived in the camps until 2002, when for work and health reasons she moved to Spain, first to Barcelona and eventually to Sabadell, where she lived with her husband and sons.
The Western Sahara’s “Frente Polisario” realized the necessity of having a permanent group of musicians with clear political ideas that could help with the international promotion of their affairs. That’s how the group “El Uali” came into life. Mariem immediately became part of the group and traveled with them to various countries to take part in cultural events of a high political influence.
“El Uali” recorded four or five albums in different countries, always with the help of the solidarity committee concerned. Among these albums “Polisario Vencerá” stands out, which was produced by Mohamed Tami, Saharawi Minister of Education from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Originally, it was released by Spanish label Guimbarda in 1982, then again in 1998 by Madrid-based world music label Nubenegra.
In 1998, Mariem’s voice appeared in some songs of the album A pesar de las heridas (Despite the Wounds). Among these, the “Canción de la Intifada” song stands out and became the most impressive song on the tours by the band Leyoad, who recorded for the Nubenegra label.
Mariem Hassan started her solo career with the album Mariem Hassan con Leyoad. Music critics unanimously recognized her as the best voice of the Western Sahara, a fact which Mariem Hassan proved once again with the release of the album Medej in May 2004.
In 2005, she was diagnosis with cancer and had surgery in Spain. After an absence of six months, Mariem Hassan released Deseos (Nubenegra), featuring Baba Salama and her brother Boika on guitars and percussionist Fatta, three of the finest musicians coming out of the refugee camps in Tinduf.
In 2007, Mariem was featured in the documentary film, Mariem Hassan, la voz del Sáhara. Her album Shouka (The Thorn) was released in 2010.
In late March 2012, she released El Aaiun Egdat (El Aaiun on fire), inspired by the Saharawi protests during and after the Gdeim Izik protest camp and the “Arab Spring.”
In October 2014, Calamar Edicion y Diseño published Hassan’s official biography in the form of a graphic novel, Mariem Hassan – Soy Saharaui, written and illustrated by Italian authors Gianluca Diana, Andromalis, and Federica Marzioni.
Mariem Hassan’s most recent recording is Baila Sahara Baila (Nubenegra, 2015).
Read a rare interview with Mariem Hassan.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and 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 albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.