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Sunday 20 December 2009

Sounds Of The Sahara

Recently I have been listening a lot to "Deseos", the 2005 album by Mariem Hassan.

Mariem is a Sahawari, the indigenous people of the Western Sahara. Like many of her people she has spent much of the last 30 years or so in exile, many of them in refugee camps in Algeria, as part of the long-running dispute over the territory. Previously a Spanish colony, it was invaded by Morocco and Mauritania when the Spanish left in the mid-1970s. Mauritania withdrew after a few years but control is still disputed by Morocco and the Polisario Front independence movement.

Mariem has apparently been performing with Sahawari troupes since the 1970s. According to some websites "Deseos" was her first solo album, but others refer to earlier recordings so I am not sure whether that is the case or not. If there are other recordings out there I would like to track them down, so if anyone knows perhaps they could tell us.

Mariem has an absolutely magnificent voice, as you will hear. On these tracks she is backed by electric guitars, tidinets (a form of lute) and tebals (ground-drums traditionally played by women).

"Sbar" - Mariem Hassan

"Tirka" - Mariem Hassan

The obvious comparison is with Tinariwen, both musically and in terms of their history (they were also exiled to Algeria, in their case from Mali). But while I enjoy and admire them, they don't move me in the same way as Mariem Hassan does. Primarily I think it is her voice, but the music is also just that little bit closer to the primitive blues sound with which I am already familiar, and so maybe strikes more of a chord. In particular, when I first listened to "Tirka", it made we think of this:

"First There Was" - Johnny Dowd

Here she is in action:

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