Aziza Brahim had a score to settle with censorship: after a concert in Paris was cancelled following diplomatic pressure, the Sahrawi singer made her return to the capital on April 26, armed with her intense rock blues, her fist raised, victorious.
Black, red, green
“My music disrupts because it is committed to defending the rights of my people. The Sahrawis have the right to self-determination. Let them cancel my concerts! I will never give up the struggle,” asserts Aziza Brahim. With a deep voice and a proud posture, she looks you right in the eye.
A poet with a gun
Born in 1976 in the refugee camps of Tindouf, south-west Algeria (then a socialist country), Aziza Brahim would become part of a generation that never set foot on the land of its ancestors – the Western Sahara. A war was breaking out between Morocco and the Sahrawi armed forces, one that deprived her of her father. Some struggled over territory and natural resources, while others fought for their independence. In 1991, the United Nations declared a ceasefire. They began a peace process and promised the Sahrawis a referendum on whether or not to affirm their right to self-determination. “We’re still waiting for it,” says Aziza Brahim. “More than 200,000 people have been living in camps for forty-three years. We are often called the oldest refugees in the world. It’s very cruel to dispossess a people of their land, of their origins. War tears families apart, turns the desert into a cemetery: it’s useless and above all, it’s full of sorrow.”
While Aziza Brahim, like many Sahrawi children, received a scholarship from the Castro government to study in Cuba – something that gave her “the power to flourish as a person, with dignity, without being dismissed” – she has not forgotten her people. Neither her unconditional love for music, inherited from Ljadra Mint Mabruk, her grandmother, nicknamed “the poet with a gun.” Aziza Brahim smiled: “When my people were still living in their country, her poems described nomadic life, traditions … But when Morocco invaded the territory, my grandmother dedicated her art to the Sahrawi struggle, to testify and to give courage. She described the battles with such precision that it seemed as if she had been there, fighting on the front line. She was a very important woman for the oral transmission of our culture, an immense inspiration for me.”
On the front line
“I never thought that my music would ever emerge from the refugee camps,” she remarks while looking forward to the release of her fifth album next fall on Glitterbeat Records, faithful to what defines her musically: an intense blues made of traditional melodies and rock storms that often indicate her revolt. “The record will talk about freedom of expression, double exile, the experiences of refugees, the diaspora and the issue of slavery that we wrongly assume has been eradicated: this is not true, of course … look at what happens to migrants in Libya.”
Aware of her position as a voice for the Sahrawi people, Aziza Brahim defines herself as a social and musical activist, a resistance fighter, conquering the stage as a space of struggle. While the singer uses the t’bel to accompany her voice, the traditional Bedouin percussion instrument, she has also dared to open herself up to electronic sounds on the upcoming album, “to offer a new soundtrack for young people and to continue to enrich the culture of my country.” Determined to continue her fight for justice and peace, the singer declares that she prefers hope to fear – “something that will soon change sides.” A capella, Aziza Brahim delivers a hymn to independence in unison with the audience of the Pan Piper, concluding the evening concert exactly how she began it: with her fist raised.