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Mariem Hassan regresa con un disco maduro, pensado y dedicado a su pueblo. Tras más de cuatro años luchando contra las secuelas de su operación, la cantante reflexiona sobre un abanico de cuestiones que mantienen su existencia en un cotidiano sin vivir.

“Shouka”, el tema capital del disco, es una experiencia inédita en la música saharaui. Mariem aprovecha la oportunidad que le brinda la publicación de una nueva obra musical para quitarse esa espina que, como todos los saharauis, lleva clavada en el corazón: el discurso que Felipe González pronunció el 14 de noviembre de 1976 en una visita a los campamentos de refugiados en la Hamada argelina.

Y lo resuelve de una forma magistral, organizando las nueve respuestas a los nueve párrafos de que consta el discurso en una cantata, la primera de la que tenemos constancia en el ámbito del haul. Una suite que recorre de principio a fin las gamas y los ritmos de la singular música saharaui. El poeta Lamín Allal ha sabido concretar en las contestaciones en hassanía a Felipe González de un modo certero, desde el reconocimiento inicial hasta la explosión última de rabia y desamparo, pasando por la ironía y el desprecio.

Mariem, que actualmente reside en Sabadell (Barcelona), viaja periódicamente a los campamentos, siempre que sus compromisos internacionales se lo permiten. Allí tiene una parte importante de su familia, su madre, ya muy mayor, y varios hermanos. Donde no puede viajar es a los territorios ocupados por Marruecos, en los que habita el resto de la familia. Para unos y para otros hay canciones. Para su madre, una cariñosa “Alu ummi”, disfrazada de conversación telefónica. Para su hijo menor, “Salem” un canto jovial, lleno de esperanza tras los sufrimientos de una infancia y una pubertad marcada por la enfermedad.

Para todos aquellos que viven bajo el yugo alauita dos canciones impresionantes. El canto desgarrado por tantas niñas maltratadas y agredidas por los invasores, plasmado en “Tefla madlouma”, y el homenaje al barrio más luchador del Aaiún, “Maatal-la”, que seguro muy pronto sonará en sus calles.

Para los compañeros, músicos y artistas, la canción que abre el disco, “Azzagafa” (La cultura), para que no cejen en el doble objetivo de mantener vivo el hilo que los une a la tradición y de combatir con sus creaciones al enemigo. Y también el recuerdo cariñoso al que fue su guitarrista y amigo durante muchos años, “Baba Salama”, muerto de leucemia en el 2005.

Y, cómo no, un puñado de canciones tradicionales remozadas, que sin perder sus raíces en el Azawan, brillan ahora con nuevos bríos. Cantos de boda, del Medej, o simples recuerdos de parajes hoy inaccesibles.

La base musical reposa en las sólidas manos de Vadiya Mint El Hanevi, percusionista, bailarina, jaleadora sin par y corista; de Lamgaifri Brahim, guitarrista, y de la propia Mariem. Con ellos el Haul está a salvo.

Completan el grupo, el guitarrista senegalés Malick Diaw; los españoles Kepa Osés, bajo, Hugo Westerdahl, bajo, Josemi Sánchez, guitarra, Jaime Muñoz, flautas; los iraníes Behnam Samani, daff y tonbak, y Davood Varzideh, ney; y el percusionista cubano-haitiano, Mel Seme.



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THIS IS THE THIRD ALBUM that I am aware of from the Spanish-based Sahraoui from West Sahara, and with each successive release this singer of extraordinary power and intensity digs deeper into the melancholy rawness of exile and hope. Mariem Hassan attacks each of the 16 deeply emotional songs on Shouka with guttural passion, her powerhouse vocals containing a real kick, supported by music that is all about sheer visceral charge rather than melodic or rhythmic nuance.

The central (and often sole) musical plank is comprised of guitarists Lamgaifri Brahim and Malick Diaw who wind desert blues licks around the quivering thrum of the tebal drum like a raunchier, dirtier Tinariwen. Add the breathy call of ney flute, supportive handclaps and ululations and the campfire celebratory feel of that other desert blues troupe, Tartit, is also invoked at times.

But comparisons with the Touareg bands only go so far. This is far more stark fare, the songs more like shortened, hypnotic versions of the elemental sheikhat Berber music of neighbouring Morocco – somewhat ironic given that the subject matter of much of this material is the continued struggle of Mariem Hassan’s compatriots against Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. The centrepiece of all this is the title track, a fiery, driving response to a Spanish politician’s empty post-colonial promises – the type of polemic that may lack verbal impact due to the language barrier but which contains a musical and vocal spirit of undeniable expressive force.

Stirring, uncompromising, magnetic – Shouka is a formidable recording driven by a formidably imposing voice.

Con Murphy (fRoots, March 2010)

CON MURPHY'S REVIEW of the latest Mariem Hassan in the March issue of fRoots did him no favours as it reveals his profound ignorance as he mixes ethnicities and musical traditions to make false points. Hassan is from the Sahraoui people from Moroccan occupied Western Sahara. The Sahraoui are related to the Moors of Mauritania and are similar to them in culture. Murphy makes two comparative references to Kel Tamasheq artists [Tinariwen and Tartit] and Imazighen musical culture of Morocco.

All WRONG! Which Imazighen? I'd like to ask him. A more appropriate comparison would have been with Dimi mint Abba. The Kel Tamasheq are part of the Imazighen people, the Sahraoui are not. The musical traditions are distinctly different, if you have an ear to discern them. Murphy was obviously over his head with this one.

To him, all these mixed black and brown desert peoples are the same and therefore fungible. Had I been the editor, I would have rejected the review. Again, this is yet another in a long list of examples where hiring [or at least consulting with] a native of the culture under review would have been wise. At the very least, Murphy should have done his homework.

Akenataa Hammagaadji (First World Music, March 2010)

MARIEM HASSAN SINGS with entrancing intimacy and poetry, in a clear message calling for all to fight injustice, discrimination and persecution. All of these new songs have been developed in a close complicity with the poet Lamin Allal and the guitarist, Lamgaifri Brahim. Although very young, he has masered all the subtleties of haul music. And Mariem, with the lack of a appropriate Saharaui guitarist overthe last years, was inspired to finally realize all the songs she has been carrying in her heart for so many years.

The CD also contains innovative new ideas: the title song "Shouka" is a cantata developed by using all scales and rhythms of the Haul. The essence of the traditional haul is impressively kept by Vadiya Mint el Hanevi, percussionist, chorus and dance, Lamgaifri Brahim, guitar, Mariem Hassan herself, with the important cooperation of poet Lamin Allal.

Cliff Furnald (Roots World, March 2010)

ON THE DAY OF ALL-TIME RECORD SNOWFALL in big d, I drove through it listening to a singer from the West Sahara desert.  It was a sublime experience. 

My commute home today took three times as long as usual, but it went quicker than it would have otherwise, because I had Mariem Hassan’s new CD Shouka on–I should say, a CD I burned from Ms Hassan’s latest album on iTunes.  Her CDs seem to be unavailable in the US, including on Amazon. 

She is my new favorite singer.  She uses a lot of the melisma that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was known for, and she sings in an Arabic dialect, but her voice has a raspy quality that reminds me of some of the soul and girl-group singers.  Kind of a cross between Ronnie Spector and Ann Peebles.  Put that raw, penetrating voice over African guitar lines that sound like Ali Farka Toure, add a little percussion and girl-group backing, and you have Shouka.

I have heard other Mariem Hassan music that sounds more Western, almost rockish or Afro-Pop, and some that sounds like African folk music.  This album is right in the middle.  I can’t unequivocally recommend it, just because people used to US radio may be put off by the “ethnic” intensity of it, particularly the ululating.  Western ears are used to James Brown’s squeals, even Tom Waits’ growls, but ululating?  May need to give it time…

Harmonyguy's Weblog (February 11th, 2010)

MARIEM HASSAN IS THE LEADING MUSICAL VOICE of Western Sahara, the last colony of Africa (granted independence by Spain in 1975 but occupied by Morocco since then). She now lives in Barcelona, but spent 26 years living in a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria. Singing in the local Arabic dialect of Hassaniya, her powerful voice is one of the great instruments in contemporary Africa music. Musically, her style is closely related to the desert blues of Mali, Senegal, Mauritania and Niger – stinging electric guitars drive the sound, accompanied by tebal (goatskin drum) and ululating female voices. If you like artists like Tinariwen, Ali Farka Toure, Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck and Malouma, this is for you. One of the best African recordings of 2010, for sure.

REVIEWER: Bill Lupoletti

RECOMMENDED TRACKS: 1, 5, 6, 13