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9 Apr 2017

Aziza Brahim: “Abbar el Hamada”2016 Algeria Western Sahara Music desert Blues Rock,Protest Songs Saharawi raised singer

Aziza Brahim: “Abbar el Hamada” 2016   Algeria Western Sahara Music desert Blues Rock,Protest Songs Saharawi raised singer


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Wonderful new album from the Western Sahara musician. Her vocal style is soft, dreamy and delicate, yet the lyrics (given in English in the sleeve notes) are unrelenting about the quest for independence for this desert state seemingly forgotten by the world.

Hints of the desert blues sound from Tinariwen and the like but with more influence from Mali, particularly from the guitar of Kalilou Sangare. Also Senegalese influence with sabar and tama (talking drum) by Sengane Ngom. There’s some nice flute on El Canto de la Arena, organ on El Wad, and some more Malian guitar by Samba Toure on Mani.

The overall feel is languid and restrained, at times with a flamenco edge to the guitars, and a bit of percussion break here and there. It’s very nice, much less intense and declamatory than the great Mariem Hassan……By One more opinion……..

Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim’s new album Abbar el Hamada (Across the Hamada), is a commanding and compassionate musical statement about, and for, the tumultuous age in which we live. Raised in a Saharawi refugee camp in the Algerian desert, and living in exile for more than two decades (first in Cuba and currently in Barcelona), Brahim’s life and music embodies both the tragedies and hopes of the present-day migrant and refugee experience. As walls and borders are again being raised though-out Europe and other corners of the world, Aziza Brahim’s passionately sung poetic defiance, is especially timely and profound. Los Muros (The Walls), a dignified desert dreamscape; is emblematic of Aziza’s artistry. The lyrics morph from condemning the sand fortifications Morocco has erected along the Western Saharan border (to prevent the return of the Saharawi to their homeland), to a recognition that while walls are tragically universal, so is the imaginative spirit that encourages us to transcend them. Brahim’s previous album, the resplendent Soutak, made great strides towards spreading her message of liberation and resistance. Soutak spent an unprecedented three months atop the World Music Charts Europe, and was the chart’s top album for 2014. The album was also selected as one of Songlines magazine’s “Top Ten” albums of the year and appeared on several other year-end critics lists. An appearance on the legendary BBC television program Later with Jools Holland further cemented her growing reputation. Buoyed by this success, Aziza and her band toured extensively in Europe and beyond. Soutak not only confirmed Brahim as the most important Saharawi musician of her generation, but it also gave evidence that she had become one of Africa’s most respected young musical voices. On Soutak the musical nuances of Barcelona, her adopted home, were clearly audible. While these influences certainly have not vanished, on Abbar el Hamada, Aziza has consciously extended her reach deeper into the sounds of contemporary West Africa. This move has been reinforced by the introduction of Senegalese percussionist Sengane Ngom and drummer Aleix Tobias (who has studied drumming in Gambia and Senegal) into her band, and the return of Malian guitarist Kalilou Sangare from the Soutak sessions. Bassist/arranger Guillem Aguilar and guitarist Ignasi Cusso, also return from the previous band. Recorded in Barcelona in the summer of 2015 with Soutak producer Chris Eckman (Bassekou Kouyate, Tamikrest), Abbar el Hamada, is a wholly persuasive example of Brahim’s pan-musical vision and is her most compelling and varied album to date. “It is meant to be a diverse, powerful album,” she says, “where Saharawi traditional rhythms (such as Asarbat and Sharaa) are mixed with drums and rhythms from West Africa (particularly Senegal) and of course Mediterranean sounds and rhythms also.” From the pulsing desert rock of Calles De Dajla, to the Afro-Cuban inflections of La Cordillera Negra (evoking 70’s recordings by the Super Rail Band) through the dusky elegance of El Canto Del La Arena and the raw balladry of Mani (featuring Malian blues-master Samba Toure on guitar), the music and lyrics on Abbar el Hamada masterfully reflect the restless, imaginative search for home, explicit in the album’s title. Hamada is the word used by the Saharawi people to describe the rocky desert landscape along the Algerian/Western Saharan frontier where tens of thousands of their people are stranded in purgatorial refugee camps. “For me, Abbar el Hamada (Across the Hamada) is a title that synthesizes our destiny as a country over the last 40 years”, Aziza explains. “We are suffering an injustice that condemns us to try and survive in an environment as inhospitable as the Hamada.” When recently asked how she would best describe her musical mission and methods, Aziza’s reply was like her music; revealing and beautifully stated: “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.” Innovation, naked truth, humility and political outcry: these are the raw materials of Aziza Brahim’s ever expanding musical vision. On her new album, Abbar el Hamada she fuses and fashions these elements into an unforgettable work that is both deeply inspired and deeply inspiring…………..

Music of the refugee, of the exile, of those disposed of a homeland has a bitter-sweet quality. Aziza Brahim was born in an Algerian refugee camp of Sahrawi people who had fled the war among nations and internal factions when Western Sahara, formerly a Spanish territory, was divided between Mauritania and Morocco (Morocco now controls all the territory). She eventually decided to pursue a musical career and today lives in Spain, having received much praise for her previous albums. In this new work, sung in Spanish (lyrics provided in Spanish, English, and Arabic), her tunes reflect influences from other Saharan people, particularly the Tuareg and those in Mali. Indeed, her band includes guest Malian star Samba Touré on electric guitar. Other musicians play acoustic and electric guitars, djembe, taba and other drums and various percussion, flute, and organ. She sings of longing for peace and a return to an independent homeland, of the desert mountains and rivers in wadis, of the role of women in modern society, and a protest of the wall built along the border of Western Sahara (and by extension, we can think of the walls between Israel and Palestine, Mexico and the United States, and other national borders in wake of the current Syrian refugee crisis). The new album has a even, mellow and soft, bluesy tone compared to her vigorous, bright, and more varied 2014 opus Soutak. There is a weariness in her voice; yet a dignified, less belligerent approach may get her message across. Unfortunately, she recently declined participating in a Israeli Festival of Sacred Music in support of the Palestinians, which prevents her direct personal confrontation of Israeli policies through her songs. (Sometimes boycott is a less effective tool of change when you are not a VIP or do not have financial clout.) Brahim’s music and lyrics remind us of the plight of so many people in diaspora, but they also provide an appreciation of other Saharan musical traditions……by…..By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel -…………….

Like generations of Sahawari people, Aziza Brahim grew up in refugee camps after her pregnant mother fled the Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara in 1976. As far back as the late 1990s the conflict in the region was being described as a “forgotten” war, and with political resolution seemingly no closer, and little to no coverage in the press, Brahim’s music expresses the social injustices felt by many Sahawari people.

Brahim was born in a refugee camp near Tindouf, in Algeria. She moved to Cuba with a study scholarship aged 11, but following a rejection to study music, she left and returned to camps in the Western Sahara, before moving to Barcelona. This much travelled background is reflected in the distinctive sound on Abbar El Hamada, the follow-up to 2014’s Soutak. The group features musicians from Spain, Senegal and Mali, resulting in an amalgamation of styles. Where Spanish guitars play mesmeric Mediterranean licks over Sahawari rhythms like Asarbat and Sharaa on traditional African instruments including djembe, sabar, tama, esgarit and the tbal drum played by Brahim. While sonically the music does not possess the ‘hard’ edge of neighbouring Tuareg rock groups, there is a great fluidity in which the desert groove unfolds over spiralling guitar riffs and propulsive rhythms.

The uplifting 'Calles De Dajla (Streets Of Dakha)’ has this in powerful doses, with ever searching guitar lines exploring endless paths, with a focus and clarity to match the beauty of Brahim’s assured lyrics and delivery. Sounding like many voices, thanks to her own added backing vocals, the repeated lines reinforce the message, proclaiming the awakening of people in the streets and campsites.

Exiled Sahawari’s have long been kept from their homeland by fortifications that stretch 1,500 miles, known as “the wall,” or 'Los Muros’ of the album’s closing track. Brahim has spent much of her life separated from family that remained in the Moroccan occupied zone, including her father, who she never met. Brahim condemns the “criminal” partition, but finds signs that it is possible to reach higher than the walls, like the shooting stars seen “crossing the wall, unnoticed”.
'El Canto De La Arena (The Song Of Sand),’ sung in Spanish, has a breezy feel courtesy of some deft flute work, and as her voice rises Brahim takes the music along with her in new directions, as on 'El Wad (The River),’ in which she asks God never to let the “essence of my joy” fade away. Head spinning guitar lines on 'La Cordeillera Negra (The Black Mountains)’ dance around Brahim’s vocals, turning one way, then the next.

Brahim’s early recordings paid tribute to the poems of her grandmother, known as “the poet of the rifle” around Sahawari refugee camps, and 'Baraka,’ a song of blessing, celebrates the teachings and example of strong women, mothers and sisters she grew up with. Malian guitarist Samba Touré, himself no stranger to unrest in his home country, brings his distinctive Songhaï blues to 'Mani’.

Abbar El Hamada, translates as “across the hamada,” areas of desert, where sand has been blown away, leaving behind a rocky, barren landscape. On the title track Brahim’s playfully poetic words rhyme on simple pleasures such as making tea under moonlight and having “spirits renewed”. For many of her family and fellow refugees that have lived their life in similar conditions there are few resources available other than words and music, “even if it is barely for a moment,” as Brahim says in the album’s liner notes. This is a sound and message that reaches the heart, beyond imposed borders, curfews and barbed wire, with a dream for the end to the struggle….by…..Richie Troughton ……..

The Western Sahara, a sliver of land rather bigger than the UK located on north Africa’s Atlantic coast, has a tragic history. Formerly a Spanish colony, it has been occupied by Morocco since the 1970s despite a strong pro-independence movement among the territory’s indigenous Saharawi population. Over 100,000 refugees from the resulting conflict still live in camps across the border in Algeria. It was in one of these that the singer and activist Aziza Brahim was born in 1976.
This often harsh environment was where the young Brahim discovered the power and expressiveness of her people’s traditional music and, at the age of 19, she won the “1st National Song Contest” at the Saharawi National Culture Festival. She soon began touring, first in Africa, then in Europe, slowly incorporating new influences into her music, ranging from blues and rock to Spanish flamenco.
Latterly based in Barcelona, her debut album proper Mabruk established her as an important new world music voice, fusing her easy, fluid style with politically charged, defiant, often sad lyrics about the homeland she had left behind. Brahim followed this up with 2014’s Soutak, an even more assured collection which garnered widespread praise, spending a remarkable three months atop the World Music Charts Europe.
New album Abbar El Hamada sees the singer back on excellent form on what might be her most accomplished, varied album yet. The influences of her adopted Catalan home were very apparent on Soutak, and after listening to Buscando La Paz, the first track here, we could be forgiven for expecting more of the same, as the Iberian instrumentation and rhythms are immediately to the fore once again. But as Abbar El Hamada unfolds, it becomes clear Brahim is painting on a wider canvas this time.
Hamada is the word used by the Saharawi people to describe the rocky desert landscape along the Algerian/Western Saharan frontier where tens of thousands of their people remain stranded, and this sense of desolate, barren vistas is vividly evoked in music that is simultaneously stark and beautiful; intimate yet expansive. Featuring a range of contributors including Malian guitarists Kalilou Sangar and Samba Touré and Senegalese percussionist Sengane Ngom, it is indubitably an African album at its heart.
Highlights of the record include the rousing Tinariwen-like rock of Calles De Dajla, the haunting title track, on which Brahim reflects movingly on her people’s plight, and the hypnotic desert blues of Mani, where Toure’s guitar weaves some particularly wonderful patterns. The Latin inflections are still very much part of the picture too; there are hints of Portuguese fado on the elegant, unhurried El Canto de la Arena, while La Cordilliera Negra’s sinuous groove has the rum-soaked energy of Afro-Cuban music. The crisp, crystal clear production of Chris Eckman (Bassekou Kouyate, Tamikrest) ensures every dexterous guitar line and shuffling drum beat leaps out of the speakers.
Above it all, Brahim’s voice, by turns languid, sensuous, yearning and angry, effortlessly glides through the songs; always an integral part of the mix but never a diva-like distraction. Monoglot English speakers may have little idea what she’s singing about, but such is the passion and grace of her delivery, Brahim could be reciting the Milton Keynes telephone directory and few would object. The fact that she has an important message to share makes her performance, and this album, even more significant and impressive. ….by Chris White………………

Buscando la paz
Calles de dajla
El canto de la arena
El wad
La cordillera negra
Abbar el hamada
Los muros 

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