Captivating Chants from the Desert Sands

Aziza Brahim – Abbar el Hamada (Glitterbeat, 2016)

Western Saharan musician and activist Aziza Brahim explains, “I’m not able to separate politics, cultural and personal concerns. So, the focus of my music is all of these areas at the same time. Political, because of its commitment to the denunciation of social injustice. Cultural, because it searches for new musical ideas. Personal, because it expresses the worries of a person that aspires to live with dignity in a better world.”

For Ms. Brahim taking on the issues of today’s refugee crisis is both personal, having been raised in a Saharawi refugee camp in the Algerian desert and a fuel for the creative process for her latest recording Abbar el Hamada or Across the Hamada, out on the Glitterbeat label.

Conjuring up the familiar bluesy revolving rhythms of the Sahara and poking at the powers that control the flow of migrants and refugees, Abbar el Hamada is an expressive, yet restrained, call for compassion with Ms. Brahim’s plaintive vocals against a backdrop filled with plumy guitar lines and neatly worked African percussion.

With the 2012 recording Mabruk with Gulili Ma and the 2014 release of Soutak to her credit, the Saharawi singer has fashioned a smoothly produced recording with Abbar el Hamada, enveloping the desert blues in the warm, rich percussion of West Africa.

Recorded in her adopted home of Barcelona, Spain with producer Chris Eckman, Senegalese percussionist Sengane Ngom, drummer Aleix Tobias, Malian guitarist Kalilou Sangare, bassist and arranger Guilem Aguilar and guitarist Ignasi Cusso, Abbar el Hamada is possessed by a kind of laid back bluesy intensity that is captivating.

Beyond the message, Abbar el Hamada doesn’t rely on sharp edges, but instead enfold the message in a sleekly worked sound as with opening “Buscando la Paz” and the revolving rhythms of “Calles de Dajla.” Darkly lush tracks like “El Canto de la Arena” and “Mani,” with guest guitarist Samba Toure, are real treats with the sorrowful vocals of Ms. Brahim working their plaintive appeal against a quiet kind of blues.

“La Cordillera Negra” is another standout track with its subversive Spanish flair, slinky guitar lines and, believe it or not, a real percussion solo that is rich and rewarding.

Closing track “Los Moros” is just as delicious with its camel plodding across the desert rhythms and moody feel.

Abbar el Hamada is testament to Ms. Brahim’s social activism, as well as her ever increasing collection of fans, proving that while the road may be difficult music can lighten the load.

Buy Abbar el Hamada

Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.


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