Mariem Hassan - CD
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Mariem Hassan:
The Voice of the Sahara

Mariem Hassan has become the most representative voice of the music of Western Sahara throughout the world. With two electric guitars and two tebals she has synthesized the spirit of the Haul and without losing an apex of freshness been able to place it into the XXIst century. Her concerts are powerful. The public can discover a solid and decided artist singing about her wishes and the needs of her people. Mariem sings in hassania, the language of that corner in the desert which is her homeland. Her intense voice leads us through mysterious paths on which struggle and tragedy shake hands with tenderness and intimate feelings.

Different dances, performed by the percussionist, enrich a repertoire based on traditional and spiritual songs as well as modern ones. The group has been able to develop a sound where there is space for blues, reggae and echoes of other current music. In the seventies, Mariem joined forces with El Uali. With this group she toured many countries to take part in cultural events of high political impact. From this supported base, Mariem Hassan has sung for more than thirty years.

She had recorded and participated in different collective CDs. DESEOS (Nubenegra, 2005) is her real first solo album. A documentary film: MARIEM HASSAN, The Voice of the Sahara (55'), was released in 2008 and presented at the FISAHARA festival. SHOUKA (Nubenegra) is her 2010 CD, an ambitious work.

She has performed with a cream of talent on numerous occasions and extensively toured Europe performing at numerous concerts and festivals. These include WOMEX, Forum de las Culturas in Barcelona, Casa Encendida in Madrid, Espace Senghor, AfroPfingsten, Africa Festival Würzburg, Les Escales festival, Umo Jazz Club in Helsinki, Festival FMM Sines (Portugal), Festival Habibi Beats (Cologne), Festival Ostrava (Czech Republic), and concerts in Antwerpen, Zurich, Luxembourg, Austria, Stockholm and Spain.

After her performances at WOMAD Cáceres and WOMAD Canarias, Mariem Hassan was invited to the WOMAD UK, Chartlon Park where she performed in July 2009. And in march 2010 Mariem will participate at WOMADelaide and WOMAD NZ in Australia and New Zealand.

Her show at WOMAD, the first day of the festival, was reviewed by Nick Hasted, THE INDEPENDENT
The early highlight is Mariem Hassan. She plays a version of the Saharan blues popularised by Tinariwen, the result of rebel fighters in refugee camps plugging into Led Zeppelin, and their Mississippi sources. Black-robed Mariem Hassan is a spokeswoman for the rebel nomad tribes of Western Sahara, easy to believe as her rapid ululations drill through the air. You can only imagine the cultural and political barriers she brazens through daily. Dirty rhythmic lead guitar helps the job here. Nor are potent resistance songs her only talent. As we're cheerily informed "Mariem will be cooking later at the Taste the World tent”, of course.

Stefan Simanowitz, MUSIC OMH
Revellers at this year's 27th WOMAD festival, traditionally a family-friendly favourite of alternative lifestylers and world music fans, were taken aback to see Prince Harry sauntering across the immaculate grounds of Charlton Park. Wearing a green woolly beanie, the third-inline to the throne was spotted mixing with the crowds before being stopped in his tracks by the voice of Western Saharan singer, Mariem Hassan, which soared through the warm afternoon air. Hassan started her set with a 'mawal', a graceful song sung without accompaniment before moving on to the mesmeric desert blues for which she is famed. She sang of love, of heartache but most of all she sang of the suffering and hopes of her people in their struggle for independence in Africa's last colony. Her sound is steeped in the Saharawi/Hassania traditions, fusing the traditional rhythmic 'haul' with blues and rock and accompanied by the tebal, a goatskin drum and electric guitar. Hassan's earthy rippling rhythms start slowly and intensify, lifting the spirit and penetrating the bone.

They built up their tents in the surroundings of the holy city Smara, in the valley of Saguia el Hamra, next to the river Tasua. The family lived off their herd of camels and goats. There, in the year ´58, Mariem Hassan came into the world, the third of ten brothers and sisters.

They weren't a family of igawen (griots), though the music was an important part of their family life. Her father had a good voice but the artistic gift came from her mothers' side. Her aunt Zaina was quite known as a singer and dancer, her uncle Bushad as a poet and her mother used to sing on birthday celebrations, weddings, in Ramadan or simply if a friend they hadn't seen for a long time came to visit them. Among her brothers there is Boika Hassan, a good guitar player and Mohamed Salem, a poet.

Already very young, when the Western Sahara still belonged to Spain, Mariem used to sing in small private parties and participated in the clandestine meetings, where the saharaui people rendered their musical culture. It seemed a very natural thing to do. Although two of her brothers were in the Spanish army, the family and their surroundings were longing for the independence of their country, like all the former African colonies did in these years. Mariem was 17 years old when the "Marcha Verde" (Green March) took place. Her two brothers who were in the Spanish army (Nomad troops) had cars and so were able to bring the family to Mjeriz, next to Tifariti, first stage of the exodus. From there they proceeded via Argelia to a place in the inhospitable Hamada. Their camp is known as Smara, in remembrance of the town the biggest part of its inhabitants had to leave behind. Mariem Hassan has lived there for 26 years. This is the place where her five children were born. Today she lives with her husband and children in Barcelona.

The four big camps are named after the four wilayas - provinces - of the Western Sahara - Smara, El Aaiun, Auserd and Dajla - and organized in the same way. Each wilaya is divided in dairas - districts - and those are divided in quarters. In each of these localities a group of musicians takes charge of maintaining the traditional culture.

The Frente Polisario realized the necessity of having a permanent group of musicians with clear political ideas that could help with the international promotion of their concerns. Those were the years when Spain had numerous politic songwriters, the "Nueva Trova Cubana" had her best moments and people still were listening to the songs of Victor Jara and Quilapayún. That's how the group "El Hafed" came into life, later - after the founder and first secretary of the Frente Poliario had fallen - named "Martir el Uali Mustafa Sayed", better known as El Uali.

Mariem immediately became part of the group and travelled with them to various countries to take part in cultural events of a high political impact that during the war with Morocco often were boycotted by Moroccan activists and functionaries. El Uali recorded four or five albums in different countries, always with the help of the solidarity committee concerned. Among these albums "Polisario Vencerá" stands out, which was produced by Mohamed Tami, Saharawi Minister of Education from the late 70s to the mid 80s. Originally, it was published by Guimbarda in 1982, then again in 1998 by Nubenegra.

Mariem Hassan like many of the other women that participated in El Uali took part in recordings or tours whenever she was able to, i.e., if she was not pregnant or had to care for her children. She is on the album that was recorded in Holland in 1980, but which never was published, and on the one that was published in France in 1989 but didn't get far either, because twhe tour that was being prepared to substitute the launching of the album had to be suspended.

Therefore it wasn't until 1998 when we finally could enjoy Mariem's voice in some songs of the album “A pesar de las heridas”. Among these the “Canción de la Intifada” stands out and since then has been one of the sparkling songs during the following concerts of Leyoad in Europe. After four years of intense work with Nubenegra, Leyoad has grown strong thanks to the two important members of the group, Mariem Hassan and Nayim Alal.

Lately Mariem Hassan has focused more on writing music. By summer 2000 Nubenegra proposed Leyoad to record a new album and Mariem contributed beautiful songs like “Sahara neb gija” or “Yasar geidu”. And it is in fact the album “Mariem Hassan con Leyoad” which marks the beginning of the solo career of Mariem.

2003 Mariem performed at the Jazzfestival in Moers, in theatres in Ermua and Alsasua (Basque Country) and also in France in Bordeaux, Gonfreville and Le Mans.

The critics unanimously recognized her as the best voice of the Western Sahara, which Mariem Hassan contributed again with the launching of the album “Medej” in May 2004. That same year she toured extensively in Europe participating in festivals like Forum de las Culturas, Barcelona, AfroPfingsten, Winterthur, Africa Festival, Würzburg, Liederflut, Leipzig, Les Escales, France, Etno Soi, Helsinki, Festival Vía Magna, Madrid, Artistas en Ruta, doing concerts in Brussels, Antwerpen and Luxemburg, Moods, Zurich, and in 20 different Spanish cities. 2005, from the 7th to the 18th of March Mariem was invited by the Jeunesses Musicales of Belgium for workshops and concerts. One week before leaving for Belgium she had got the diagnosis of a breast cancer and was operated right after returning to Spain, in Barcelone. “Deseos” (2005), her real first solo album started in 2004 with the musical direction and guitar of Baba Salama, with her brother Boika on guitar too and the percussionist Fatta. With this quartet she had been apt to recreate the whole universe of the Haul. In the intimacy of this small group her figure had grown immensely large and left us speechless with the intensity of her voice.

Deseos is an ardent album, full of rhythm, which seemingly doesn't reveal the tragedies happening during its gestation: the leukemia and the death of Baba Salama before the album was published and the cancer of breast of Mariem herself.

The mutual understanding of that quartet can be appreciated in “La tumchu anni”, an impressive blues with taste of sand and heat, a song talking about the still unsettled situation of her invaded country, don't desert us! In “Magat milkitna dulaa” the two electric guitars let her voice fly with unique energies into the four directions of the wind. And finally we can listen to the electric version of the “Intifada”, her best known song related to a rising in the occupied territories.

Six months later Mariem Hassan returned on stage to present Deseos, her new release. The first live performance was in September 2005 at Mercat de Música Viva in Vic (Barceloma) followed by the international music meeting of WOMEX, Newcastle (England) with a memorable concert. 2006 to 2008 was a time of transition, Mariem trying to restructure her group and adapting to the new situation. Years of hard work with performances at some important venues as Södra Teatern (She's a Rebel program, with Souad Massi and Natacha Atlas), Habibi Beats (Funkhaus Europa's Summer Stage), Sines Festival (Portugal), Concert at the Dunes (FISAHARA) and many others.

These years have been closely related with documentaries about Mariem, the exile and the occupied Western Sahara. Outstanding the documentary “La Puerta del Sahara”, directed by Susy Alvarado, with the soundtrack by Hugo Westerdahl based on the music of Mariem Hassan and her companions and the documentary, ”The Voice of the Sahara”, about Mariem Hassan produced by CanalMicro. And at the same time plenty of videos appeared about the Saharawi Intifada, placed on Youtube, using the songs of Mariem.

After many years flirting with WOMAD finally Mariem Hassan played successfully at the Spanish venues, Cáceres & Canarias, in 2008, was invited to perform in the 2009 editions of the UK WOMAD and WOMAD Sicily, and now in 2010 she will participate at WOMADelaide and WOMAD NZ in Australia and New Zealand.

CDs featuring Mariem Hassan:

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Listen to some songs from Shouka:

  • Azzagafa
  • Terwah
  • Tefla madlouma
  • Baba Salama
  • Ala Ahd Shaid

    Listen to some songs from ...Con Leyoad:

  • Ib Chab
  • Yasar Geidu
  • Wadna

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