El Aaiun on Fire - El Aaiún Egdat
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Mariem Hassan
El Aaiún Egdat (El Aaiun on Fire)

Mariem Hassan, who spent much of her life in an Algerian refugee camp, until moving to Spain 10 years ago, is from a family of Western Saharan nomads, the saharawi, and her music draws from the poetry and intense repetitive drones of the desert. In fact, her last LP, Shouka, dug deep into guitar-driven sand dune stomps that dispensed with much of the western additives and gave the best of the current crop of “desert rock” bands a run for their collective money. Yet, with El Aaiún Egdat (El Aaiun is the Western Sahara’s largest city; Egdat means 'on fire'), the bluesy-bent note guitar fills, as well as the woodwinds of Gabriel Flores dominate, much to the frustration of anyone who fell in love with her via Shouka. But then it’s never been Hassan’s plan to produce typical saharawi guitar music, much less make the same record twice. She co-composes the tunes, and her lyrics often deal with the issues of Western Saharan autonomy, praise of the Arab Spring or occasionally, lost love and the loneliness that comes with it. “Ana Saharauia” (I am Saharawi) oddly enough is as close to late night cocktail jazz as she’s ever come, with a suspended upright bass figure, sax and incredibly smooth guitar fills. Her voice, known for its fire, is even subdued here. It’s seems ironic that she’d declare her roots over music imported from the ever pervasive west, but then perhaps she’s simply subverting such influence.

This isn’t to say her nomadic heritage doesn’t rear its head. Tracks such as “Gdeim Izik” represent classic desert electric guitar trance, as the riff builds over ululations, hand percussion, while Hassan’s voice wails in a warning to Moroccans who think they can sleep at night with the security that the Sahara is theirs. Here, the guitar tones are deep with distortion. And the blues, which is so connected to Saharan guitar music, appears as well. “Tarham ya Allah Shuhada” percolates steadily, and even includes some incredibly tasty harmonica. El Aaiún Egdatsaves its most severe track for last, however. “Siyant Laydad,” is arguably a blues, but its sonics border on experimentalism not usually associated with Saharawi music. Again, the track is a loping blues drone, but this time, sampled mbira, overloaded guitars and saxophone slither in and out of the groove, as Hassan’s voice becomes an anchor in a gale. The tune is consciously psychedelic, but nonetheless brutal because of it. It’s also a hell of a record closer. While this nearly 70-minute long disc is frustrating uneven, it’s rarely tasteless, and the best of it shows why Hassan merits a hard won position in a scene dominated by men. - Bruce Miller

CD available from cdRoots

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cd cover

"Tarham ya Allah shudada"


CD available from cdRoots

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