Can you recognize the song of a nightingale? This is not a difficult question cause that song it has only one answer… Yes this is the song with the amazing voice of singer/actress AZIZA BRAHIM… The Sahrawi Nightingale!
Aziza Brahim is singer and actress born and raised in the Saharawi refugee camps lining the frontier between Algeria and Western Sahara!
Aziza’s life has been marked by both daunting hardship and inspired will. Fleeing from these camps and the regime of political oppression that followed Morocco’s 1975 invasion of Western Sahara, as a young teenager Aziza travelled to Cuba for her secondary school studies. There she experienced firsthand the deep Cuban economic crisis of the 1990s and the subsequent denial of her request to pursue a university degree in music.
Music had been Aziza’s passion since she was a small girl and despite this setback she returned to the Saharawi camps in Algeria and began singing and playing in different musical ensembles, a process that continued when she moved to Spain in the year 2000. There she founded the eclectic Saharawi/Spanish band Gulili Mankoo with whom she released two acclaimed self-produced recordings: the EP Mi Canto (2008) and an album Mabruk (2012), both on Reaktion, a French label specializing in Saharan music. In the last years Aziza has performed extensively appearing at major festivals and venues including the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London (2009).
Aziza’s album Soutak (“Your Voice”), her debut for the Glitterbeat label, is her first recording to predominantly focus on the cadence of her majestic voice and the soulful critique of her lyrics. The album was produced by Chris Eckman (Tamikrest, Ben Zabo, Dirtmusic) and was recorded live and direct in Barcelona in June of 2013.
Aziza’s next album Abbar el Hamada (“Across the Hamada”) recorded in Barcelona in the summer of 2015 with Soutak producer Chris Eckman is a wholly persuasive example of Brahim’s pan-musical vision.
The music Aziza Brahim makes reflects both the sorrow and the hope of these people. She grew up in one of those camps in the Algerian desert, alongwith thousands of other Saharawi who were removed from their homes in theWestern Sahara. The refugee camp was the place that formed her. It lives in her every heartbeat.
She lives in exile, in Spain, and the music for Sahari (“The deserts”) her fifth album –her third for Glitterbeat -was written and recorded there on 2019. And while her songs remain grounded in her homeland, her gaze is increasingly global. To achieve that, Brahim worked with the acclaimed Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia on the album’s pre-production, and the collaboration has made a transformative impact on the music. The focus is broader, with programming and keyboards a vital part of the new sound.
Sahari mixes North and South sounds on a briliant blend of traditional and modern World Music and has been on the top of World Music Charts Europe (WMCE) on December 2019 and January 2020.
Athens Calling G.R following Aziza Brahim’s up-to-date artistic course, appreciating what she has to date… ‘traveled’ online and met her… via email !
ATHENS CALLING G.R: Hi, dear Aziza and thanks for speaking with us today. Where are you now?
AZIZA BRAHIM: Hi, Athens Calling. Thanks for your interest in my music. I’m in Barcelona now.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: First off, congrats on the release of your new album with the title ‘SAHARI ‘ ! I think that it is a great album with ten fantastic songs. When did you start working on its production and when did you finish up?
AZIZA BRAHIM: Thanks again. I celebrate you like it. I started working on “Sahari” since 2017 when I finished the previous album (“Abbar el Hamada”) tour. I had been travelled through Europe and refugee camps, so I collected a lot of ideas for new songs. I’ve finished up three years after.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: Tell us about the music and the lyrics of ‘SAHARI ‘. I mean about your inspiration.
AZIZA BRAHIM: The inspiration for this songs are, first of all, my people situation, but news I listen to about refugees in the world or the remember of my first years in Europe, too. The álbum shows a personal point of view about exil, diaspora, oblivion and remember, without forget the dreams for a better world.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: Some lyrics of your songs are poems that you heard from your grandmother… EL JADRA MINT MABRUK … witch your best memory of your grandmother?
AZIZA BRAHIM: My grandmother Ljadra is a wonderful person. When I talk with her by phone, she ever transmits me her strength. Musically, she ever has been a inspiration as me as my people. Of course, I put some music for her most important poems in my album Mabruk (Reaktion Records, 2012). In this way I wanted to compile her legacy, I honored my childhood because I was very tied to her. She carried me to her recital or she wrote poems for me.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: And the worst moment of your life… till today?
AZIZA BRAHIM: I prefer not to sign a specific worst moment because would be a lot of them. I must say that living as a refugee is not easy. Worst moments for we as refugees are something different than for rest of people.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: Who was your first teacher in music?
AZIZA BRAHIM: I never had an official teacher in music, but I ever learnt of the people I had near, first my family, second my friends, after, people I worked with. Y sigo aprendiendo de una manera libre
ATHENS CALLING G.R: Your Biggest Influences?
AZIZA BRAHIM: Regarding poetry, Ljadra, of course. Regarding music, Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita, Nina Simone, Big Mama Thornton, Billie Holliday, Jimi Hendrix, Um Kalzum, Miriam Makeba, Cheb Khaled, Malouma, Dimi Mint Abba, Los Van Van… the list is too long.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: Many names in the entire genre of music and for you, who are your favorite musicians? Groups? CD’s?
AZIZA BRAHIM: I usually listen to the radio. And today is the International Radio Day.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: Today as you know… there is the big problem of immigration. Is there really any light in the tunnel? What do you think about it?
AZIZA BRAHIM: Immigration ever have been a fact. It existed across the Humanity history. We know its causes: inequality, war, exploitation forces million of people to exodus. We need political solutions which respect elemental rights for the immigrant people. It is a task for Governments and society.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: Do you know about the letter from 30 Members, from 4 Political Groups, of the European Parliament on the violation of civil rights in the occupied territories of the West. Sahara, on the case of activist Mahfouda Elfakir?
AZIZA BRAHIM: It is a now case of repression. It isn’t surprising that Morocco’s Government continues infringing rights of Sahrawi people. Europe knows that it must be careful with its partner in North Africa. Morocco’s Government is not respectful with European decisions about West Sahara fishing resources. So, it is not understandable that Europe trades with human rights and UN resolutions over Self-determination right for a country that it is member of African Union and the last colony of Africa.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: … All the bad things happen in this world for the people and really I don’t know why? Changing theme let’s go back to the album ‘ SAHARI ‘ and I must say to you about the really fantastic cover… with the young ballet dancer in the desert… in the refugee camps … something like the hope in global problems!
AZIZA BRAHIM: I know the solution needs not only hope, but hope is ever necessary. The wonderful image of Ana Valiño inspired the cover of Sahari the first time I saw her. It is an image full of hope, dignity and is also dreamy. Dreams, which we all have, regardless of where we are, make their way into that cruel desert, imposing themselves with the same dignity and strength, with which we see the little dancer Aaiza, surrounded by sand and with a suffocating heat to show an unresolved conflict.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: About ‘SAHRI’ again … tell us your favorite song and why?
AZIZA BRAHIM: For now, my favourite song of Sahari is Lmenfa. It is a song with an old story about migration and exile. It talks about the friendship’s importance in hard situations through one remember inside other remember.
ATHENS CALLING G.R: At last do you have to say any general message to the people around the world?
AZIZA BRAHIM: The message is on the air: Peace!
ATHENS CALLING: O.k Aziza! Send now another message to the people all around the world about the Pandemic of COVID – 19.
AZIZA BRAHIM: For me, similarly most people, these days are so difficult. Not just lockdown but the news with dead numbers are terrifying. I am in a state of anxiety because I am very worried. If in Europe and United States there are high levels of people affected by COVID19, what could happen in refugee camps where the medical assistance is very precarious and depends mostly of International Cooperation? On the other hand, the border closure will prevent that humanitarian aid from reaching the camps for a time. If to survive there was difficult, hereinafter will be more complicated.
We must adapt to circumstances again. But I hope this apocalyptic situation derived from the pandemic to go away as soon as possible and they find soon a vaccine
ATHENS CALLING G.R: Really all the best to you and to your family Aziza! Thanks for speaking with us and I hope to see you in Greece for a concert soon!
AZIZA BRAHIM: Pleased to meet you. Greetings from Barcelona to all your readers. See you!