‘Sahara Soul’: Far more than sand and sun.

SAHARA SOUL II : 27th of September 2014, Barbican Centre.Nabil

It is easy, especially for people living parts of the world far away from a place like the Sahara Desert, to mentally evoke concepts like sand, sun, arid weather, inhospitable… perhaps even hostile, when coming across this word. Though some of these may be part of it, it is certainly not the whole picture. Often times, we seem locked in rather stereotypical images of what a certain word represents. Often times, the whole picture is far… far more complex and richer than what we may be aware of.

This is when platforms that offer a medium in which the ones looking from afar can learn from the insiders who know better than anyone, become relevant. Those who can provide a greater picture and glimpse at what the whole complexity of a world often known over simplistic images in movies, can really be like. This is when a platform like Sahara Soul, which exhibits the contemporary musical tradition of North Africa, become relevant and necessary for a greater and needed understanding between cultures.

And so, Sahara Soul returns to the Barbican Centre this year on its second edition. Following last year’s first and sold-out where the musical tradition of Mali was celebrated, now it was the turn for nomadic North African musicians of Saharawi, Berber, Tuareg and Mauritanian communities. A line-up comprised by Ensemble Tartitn from Timbuktu, Mauritania’s Norua Mint Seymali, the Tuareg trio Nabil Baly and Saharawi singer Aziza Brahim from Western Sahara. Also counting with the presence of very special guests, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni from Tinariwen, Ousmane Ag Mossa from Tamikrest, Sanou Ag Ahmed from Terakraft and oud and guitar player Nabil Othmani.

The concert kick-started at 7:34pm, with a brief introduction of the festival, the musicians to take place, and an overview of the Tuareg philosophy of life, perhaps whose most dominant values being that “simplicity is freedom”. The first half started with the Ensemble ‘Tartit’, a Tuareg band from Timbuktu (Mali) that was founded in a refugee camp back in 1992. Comprising the whole first half of the concert, their music led by female vocals and plenty of hand-clapping, along with guitars and percussions quickly took over the audience, who soon joined the band in clapping along with their traditional melodies. The mood quickly rose up, as some band members stood up in some songs to display dance steps along with the music, at times also acrobatic, which gave an audience a real treat and a loud applause in recognition for this lively group of Tuareg musicians, whose spirit and passion displayed won the sincere appreciation of the public.

After the intermission, the second part started with Mauritanian singer Noura Mint Seymali. Daughter of prominent Mauritanian musicians, her voice was accompanied by her own playing of the ‘ardine’, an instrument traditionally played by females, along with the guitar of Jeiche Ould Chighaly. Noura’s vocals soon brought the audience to a near silence, taken into her music as the hall was taken over by her powerful voice, and loud applause followed.

Following with the Tuareg trio ‘Nabil Baly’, who brought the audience back to a more lively sound. Nabil Othmani’s oud and vocals led most of the songs, accompanied with vocals from Barka Beltou in djembe and guitar, and Smail Khabou in darbuka and guitar as well, brought back the clapping in the hall, as their joyous songs prompted an enthusiastic applause to this lively trio.

Last, but definitely not least, the stage was taken over by Aziza Brahim and band members. Receiving a warm welcome from the audience, the band prompted to briefly introduce themselves and their latest work. A work that has been marked by the indelible experiences of her life growing up in a refugee camp, her work is inevitably marked by the struggles and difficulties lived. Still, her sound is a lively combination of African folk, blues and Spanish rhythms that enriched the lyrical content of the songs, and brought the audience to a more contemporary feel of music with these mixed musical influences. Her last song was dedicated to the memory of her mother, explained in her words, as “a woman who struggled in one of the most inhospitable deserts in the world”, and by consequence, a piece dedicated to all women of the world as well.

An evening where North Sahara met Northern Europe. Again, music demonstrated its power to build a bridge of understanding between different cultures, to become a platform for speaking the stories of people whose experiences remain alive in their lyrics, and speaking the soul of the land that gave birth to their musical tradition and culture. And amongst many other things… that’s the power that music has.

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