January 24, 2008

Mariem Hassan: The Voice Of A Forgotten People In Exile

Mariem_Hassan.jpgMariem Hassan is the premier songstress of the Saharawi, a Berber Arab people made stateless by one of the longest wars in post-colonial African history. The homeland of the Saharawi is the country commonly known as Western Sahara, a largely arid chunk of land wedged between Morocco and Mauritania on Africa’s far western coast.

When its former colonial masters, Spain, were driven out of Western Sahara in 1975 by an indigenous guerilla movement known as the Polisario Front, both Morocco and Mauritania claimed the fledging nation as their own. After an initial carve up that divided it between the two, the Polisario (who had formed a government called the Saharawi Democratic Arab Republic) went to war against their new occupiers. After four years of fighting, they ousted the Mauritanians only to be ousted by the Moroccans who, till this day, remain the effective rulers of Western Sahara.

The SADR and its followers, meanwhile, have spent much of the past 25 years in refugee camps in the harsh desert of Western Algeria. In that time, their plight has become increasingly invisible to the outside world, and their only real exposure on the international stage has been via Meriam Hassan, who has had records released in the West and has become the de facto voice of the Saharawi.

And, as far as a “voice of a people” goes, hers is something special indeed – raw, guttural, explosive and filled with wailing passion… Just listen to the following two tracks from her 2002 album, Mariem Hassan con Leyoad.

Mariem Hassan - Id Chab
Mariem Hassan - Sahara Neb Gija

The full album can be purchased from Calabash, and more information about the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic can be found here. For more info on Mariem herself, check out this fan-site.

(Many thanks to Benn Loxo Du Taccu for switching me on to this amazing singer)

Posted by Warren at January 24, 2008 02:30 AM | World