Sunday, May 23, 2010

MARIEM HASSAN - Shouka (Nubanegra)

This is the third album that I am aware of from the Spanish-based Saharawi from West Sahara, and with each successive release this singer of extraordinary power and intensity digs deeper into the melancholy rawness of exile and hope. Hassan attacks each of the sixteen deeply emotional songs on Shouka with guttural passion, her powerhouse vocals containing a real kick supported by music that is all about sheer visceral charge rather than melodic or rhythmic nuance. The central (and often sole) musical plank is comprised of guitarists Lamgaifri Brahim and Malick Diaw who wind desert blues licks around the quivering thrum of the Tebal drum like a raunchier, dirtier Tinariwen. Add the breathy call of ney-flute, supportive handclaps and ululations and the campfire celebratory feel of that another desert blues troupe, Tartit, is also invoked at times.
But comparisons with the Tuareg bands only go so far. This is far more stark fare, the songs more like shortened, hypnotic versions of the elemental sheikhat Berber music of neighbouring Morocco. Somewhat ironic given that the subject matter of much of this material is the continued struggle of Mariem Hassan’s compatriots against Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. The centre piece of all this is the title track, a fiery, driving response to a Spanish politician’s empty post colonial promises – the type of polemic that may lack verbal impact due to the language barrier but which contains a musical and vocal spirit of undeniable expressive force. Stirring, uncompromising, magnetic – Shouka is a formidable recording driven by a formidably imposing voice.

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