Sahraouis: The Music of the Western Sahara

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Nubenegra
WORKS: World
PERFORMER: Various artists
CATALOGUE NO: INT 3255 2 (distr. New Note)

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In one of its last gasps, Franco’s Spain did a deal with Morocco and handed on the land of Western Sahara. Nobody asked the SAHRAOUIS, who still proclaim their republic from refugee camps across the border in Algeria. 

A team of Spanish producers went there to make recordings in 1997. Adding some older tracks of resistance songs, they have come up with a very immediate set of traditional and new music, fired up by emotion and evolving fast. It’s music first, documentary second. The songs say plenty about the life, but their appeal is down to the energy and intensity of the performers.

Their ethos is strongly Muslim, with disc one featuring women singers from the soft-toned, vivacious Aziza Brahim to the powerful and proud Mariem Hassan, with guitars acoustic and electric and occasionally the nowadays rare, guitar-like tidinit. The venture became collaborative, and the producers sometimes play as part of the accompaniment.

On disc two, with male singers, the ensembles are more sophisticated, with westernised beats and an awareness of sounds from across the Sahara. The re-edit of Martir Luali’s 1982 recordings puts passionate vocals and fine guitar playing to work on a complex, journalistic mix of events and emotions.

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For all the lavish production (including brilliant photos) there’s a slightly chaotic, heat-of-the-moment feeling about the set which reflects urgency, though it would be nice if the translation gave singers the right gender more often.