Aziza Ibrahim: A Saharawi Panacea for Distressed Souls

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Her perky rubicund robe, worn like saris, is adorned with carroty flower patterns. The costume matches with the mefhla headscarf that sheaths her crown. As she makes it to the stage, I immediately catch a glimpse of the beauteous beam that embellishes her face. The stage also hosts three musicians on the guitar, and a fourth one on the drums. A subtle excitement takes over as I impatiently wait to be whisked away by the amalgamation of Western Saharran and Spanish concords that promises to ensue.

The melody opens. Acoustic rhythm guitar introduces the pleasant-sounding intervention and the tabla swiftly partakes in the harmony. Aziza inaugurates the singing as her hands adeptly tap on the traditional Sahrawi hand-drum that stands before her, imbuing a panacea for distressed souls.

Aziza Ibrahim is a Sahrawi poet and singer who was born in a refugee camp near Tindouf in Algeria in 1976. Morocco’s 1975 invasion of Western Sahara and the politically oppressive regime that was introduced pushed Ibrahim to flee to Cuba where she sought to continue her education. This exile would later leave its mark on her music philosophy rendering her an articulate spokesperson for the Saharawi people and their ever-existing fight for independence and recognition.

Returning to the Sahrawi refugee camps in 1995 after years of study in Cuba, where she encountered difficulties in continuing her education, Ibrahim cooperated with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and made her first recordings for National Sahrawi Radio. She then joined the National Sahrawi Music Group with which she embarked on her first international tour to Mauritania and Algeria.

Moving to Spain in 2000, where she still resides, Ibrahim continued to tour Europe and joined the Latin Jazz group ‘Yayabo’ in 2005. During her time with the group, Ibrahim experimented with a merge of Sahrawi and Caribbean music, which was the beginning of a process of constant experimentation. It was this experimentation that eventually paved the way for Ibrahim’s founding of the “Gulili Mankoo” group in 2006; a group, which seeks to blend African and Sahrawi elements with an accompaniment of blues and rock music.

Aziza opened the night with songs in Saharawi and Arabic. Some of the songs tugged at the concept of independence, which sits at the depths of Ibrahim’s repository. Ibrahim also delivered a song from her new album “Soutak” translating into “Your Voice” which was released last February.

An ecstatic synthesis of melodies traversed through Ibrahim’s songs before it gave in to music flooded with agony that hinted at themes such as refuge, exile, freedom, resistance and independence. Dedicating her “bread, freedom, dignity” song to the people of Palestine was a much needed, albeit painful, intervention which was later followed by her chef d’oeuvre “lagi’’ which translates into “refugee”.

The song is a sobering mantra which Ibrahim dedicated to the hapless refugees of the world.

The concert, which comes as part of Aziza’s tour to promote the new album Soutak (“Your Voice”), took place on 25 July.  It was part of the annual Hayy festival organised at El Genaina Theatre at Al-Azhar park and was initiated with an opening act by the Egyptian singer Sarah El Gohary.