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Mariem Hassan es la voz más representativa de la música del Sáhara Occidental. De alguna forma se la considera su embajadora. Con la ayuda de dos guitarras eléctricas -sustitutas de la tidinit, un rústico laud- y de dos tebales (tambores) tocados por mujeres, ha sintetizado el espíritu del haul y, sin perder un ápice de su frescura, situarlo en el siglo XXI.

Nació en 1958 en las inmediaciones de la ciudad santa de Smara, en la cuenca de Saguia el Hamra, junto al río Tasua. La familia vivía de los rebaños y cabras que poseía. Es la tercera de un total de diez hermanos.

Mariem tenía diecisiete años cuando la Marcha Verde. Los dos hermanos militares poseían coches, y con ellos trasladaron a la familia al enclave de Mjeriz, próximo a Tifariti, primera etapa del éxodo. Desde allí salieron para Argelia, hacia un lugar de la inhóspita Hamada. Su campamento es conocido como Smara, en memoria de la ciudad que dejaron atrás la mayoría de sus pobladores. Allí ha pasado veintisiete años Mariem Hassan; allí han nacido sus cinco hijos. En la actualidad vive en Sabadell (Barcelona) con su marido y los hijos menores.

Mariem lleva toda su vida participando en distintos grupos de música saharaui. Primero con Mártir Luali, en memoria del primer Secretario de Frente Polisario, muerto tempranamente en combate. Con el grupo viajó a muchísimos países participando en actos culturales cargados de un alto contenido político que, en plena guerra con Marruecos, eran a menudo boicoteados por activistas y funcionarios marroquíes en el extranjero.

Mártir Luali, grabó en distintos países europeos cuatro o cinco discos de irregular factura, ayudado por los respectivos comités de solidaridad. Entre ellos destaca Polisario Vencerá, producido por Mohamed Tami, Ministro de Cultura saharaui desde finales de los 70 a mediados de los 80. Fue editado originalmente en 1982 por el sello español Guimbarda y recuperado en el 98 por Nubenegra. Mariem, como muchas otras de las mujeres que han integrado Mártir Luali, participaba o no en las giras y grabaciones según se lo permitieran embarazos, partos y crianzas de los hijos. Estuvo en el disco que se grabó en Holanda en 1980 -que nunca vio la luz- y en el de Francia, que se editó en 1989, pero que no llegó a distribuirse pues la gira que estaba preparada para apoyar el lanzamiento se suspendió por una de esas causas aciagas que persiguieron al grupo en toda su trayectoria.

Por tal motivo hay que esperar hasta 1998 y A pesar de las heridas, para poder disfrutar de su voz en unas cuantas canciones. Entre todas destaca su “Canción de la Intifada” que en las giras posteriores con Leyoad -grupo circunstancial bajo el que se presenta en toda Europa- será uno de los platos fuertes. Tras cuatro años de intenso trabajo con Nubenegra, Leyoad se consolida gracias a la permanencia en su seno de dos de las máximas figuras de la música saharaui, la propia Mariem Hassan y Nayim Alal.

En esta última etapa Mariem ha ido centrándose más y más en la composición, por eso cuando en el verano del 2000 Nubenegra propone grabar a Leyoad un disco de medej y Mariem acude con canciones de la talla de “Sahara neb gija” o “Yasar geidu” no queda otra solución que rendirse ante las evidencias.

El disco Mariem Hassan con Leyoad, publicado en el 2002, tuvo una espléndida acogida. Desde entonces se ha consolidado como artista individual, participando en numerosas giras y actuaciones ya bajo su nombre: Mariem Hassan. Ello no ha sido óbice para actuar esporádicamente con las Mujeres Saharauis, con las que ha grabado Medej, una colección de cantos antiguos espirituales.

La consagración definitiva le ha llegado con Deseos, su primer álbum en solitario. De la mano de Baba Salama como productor y guitarrista, y con la asistencia de su hermano Boika Hassan, logra, por fin, una obra sólida e impecable, donde las guitarras disfrutan de una libertad hasta ahora desconocida en los territorios de haul.

Deseos es un disco ardiente, lleno de ritmo, que aparentemente no deja traslucir las dos tragedias acaecidas durante su gestación: la leucemia y muerte de su productor, quien no llegó a ver el disco editado, y la del cáncer de mama de la propia Mariem. Ella, sin embargo, logró sobreponerse y en cuanto su salud se lo permitió actuó en el Mercat de la Música de Vic y, al poco, en la feria del Womex (Newcastle) donde logró el reconocimiento máximo de los participantes. Era el punto de partida para reanudar su carrera y seguir presentando con regularidad su repertorio en escenarios de Europa, América y África.

Desde entonces ha seguido imparable su carrera en ascenso, llegando con sus conciertos hasta Australia y Nueva Zelanda, de la mano de WOMAD. Su disco Shouka acaparó en 2.010 los primeros puestos de las Charts europeas.

Biography

They built up their tents in the surroundings of the holy city Smara, in the valley of Saguin el Hamra, next to the river Tasua. The family lived of their herd of camels and goats. There, in the year ´58, Mariem Hassan came into the world, the third of ten brothers and sisters.

They weren't a family of igawen (griots), though the music was an important part of their family life. Her father had a good voice but the artistic gift came from her mothers' side. Her aunt Zaina was quite known as a singer and dancer, her uncle Bushad as a poet and her mother used to sing on birthday celebrations, weddings, in Ramadan or simply if a friend they hadn't seen for a long time came to visit them. Among her brothers there is Boika Hassan, a good guitar player and Mohamed Salem, a poet.

Already very young, when the Sahara still belonged to Spain, Mariem used to sing in small private parties and participated in the clandestine meetings, where the saharaui people rendered their musical culture. It seemed a very natural thing to do. Although two of her brothers were in the Spanish army, the family and their surroundings were longing for the independence of their country, like all the former African colonies did in these years.

Mariem was 17 years old when the "Marcha Verde" (Green March) took place. Her two brothers who were in the army had cars and so were able to bring the family to the enclave of Mjeriz, next to Tifariti, first stage of the exodus. From there they proceeded via Argelia to a place in the inhospitable Hamada. Their camp is known as Smara, in remembrance of the town the biggest part of its inhabitants had to leave behind.

Mariem Hassan has lived there for 26 years. This is the place where her five children were born. Today she lives with her husband and children in Barcelona.

The four big camps are named after the four wilayas - provinces - of the western Sahara - Smara, El Aaiun, Auserd and Dajla - and organized in the same way. Each wilaya is divided in dairas - districts - and those are divided in quarters. In each of these localities a group of musicians takes charge of maintaining the traditional culture.

The "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 concerns. Those were the years when Spain had numerous politic songwriters, the "Nueva Trova Cubana" had her best moments and people still were listening to the songs of Victor Jara and Quilapayún.

That's how the group "El Uali" came into life. Mariem immediately became part of the group and travelled with them to various countries to take part in cultural events of a high political impact that during the war with Morocco often were boycotted by Moroccan activists and functionaries.

"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, Saharaui Minister of Education from the late 70s to the mid 80s. Originally, it was published by Guimbarda in 1982, then again in 1998 by Nubenegra. Mariem Hassan like many of the other women that participated in "El Uali" took part in recordings or tours whenever she was able to, i.e., if she was not pregnant or had to care for her children. She is on the album that was recorded in Holland in 1980, but which never was published, and on the one that was published in France in 1989 but didn´t get far either, because the tour that was being prepared to substitute the launching of the album had to be suspended.

Therefore it wasn't until 1998 when we finally could enjoy Mariem's voice in some songs of the album A pesar de las heridas. Among these the Canción de la Intifada stands out and since then has been one of the most impressive songs on the tours of the group Leyoad. After four years of intense work with Nubenegra, Leyoad has grown strong thanks to two of the most important persons in Saharaui music who always stayed with the group, Mariem Hassan herself and Nayim Alal.

Lately Mariem Hassan has focused more on writing music. By summer 2000 Nubenegra proposed Leyoad to record an new album and Mariem contributed beautiful songs like Sahara neb gija or Yasar geidu.

Mariem Hassan has started a solo career which began with the album Mariem Hassan con Leyoad. With the actual quartet she is apt to recreate the whole universe of the haul. In the intimacy of her small group her figure is growing immensely large and leaves us speechless with the intensity of her voice.

2003 she performed at the Jazzfestival in Moers, in theatres in Ermua and Alsasua and also in France in Bordeaux, Gonfreville and Le Mans.

The critics unanimously recognized her as the best voice of the Western Sahara, a fact which Mariem Hassan proved once again with the launching of the album Medej in May 2004.

That same year she did a Europe tour participating in festivals like the Fórum de las Culturas, Barcelona, AfroPfingsten, Winterthur, Africa Festival, Würzburg, Liederflut, Leipzig, Les Escales, France, Etno Soi, Helsinki, Festival Vía Magna, Madrid, Artistas en ruta (Salamanca, Madrid, Huesca) doing concerts in Espace Senghor, Brussels, Antwerpen and Luxemburg, Moods, Zurich, completing the year with concerts in Spain in Alicante, Oviedo, León, Alcoi, Gijón, Barcelona, Gracia, Santander, Guadalajara, Granada, Almonestar la Real, Elenco, Ciudad Real, Bilbao, Blanes, Tres Cantos.

2005, from the 7th to the 18th of March Mariem was invited by the governmental youth institute of Belgium for workshops and concerts.

21st of March, back in Spain, she got the diagnosis of a cancer and she was operated next day. After an absence of six months, Mariem Hassan is back to present her new release, Deseos.

It is her very personal solo album under the musical direction and guitar of late Baba Salama., with her brother Boika on guitar too and the push of the percussionist Fatta. Three of the best musicians coming out of the refugee camps of Tinduf.

The mutual understanding of the quartet can be appreciated in La tumchu anni, an impressive blues with taste of sand and sun and whose title don’t desert me remembers that the situation of her occupied country is still unsettled. In Magat milkitna dulaa the two electric guitars let Mariem and her voice fly with unique energies into the four directions of the wind. And finally we can listen to the electric version of the Intifada, her best known song related to a rising in the occupied territories.

2005 at Mercat de Música Viva in Vic in September was the first station where Mariem presented her new album Deseos.

Unintentionally but unavoidable Mariem Hassan has become the representative voice for her people everywhere in the world

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  Sahara Occidental