Oh! What a forgotten war

Sahrawi musician Aziza Brahim was born in a refugee camp in the Tindorf region of Algeria in 1976. These camps were opened to house Sahrawi refugees fleeing from invading Moroccan forces at the start of the Western Sahara War which lasted from 1975 to 1991. The war was fought between Morocco, which claims sovereignty over the region, and the Algerian-backed Sahrawi Polisario Front, which works for independence for Western Sahara - the Sahrawi are mixed-culture nomads who are the long-term inhabitants of the region.

Although a UN monitored ceasefire came into effect in 1991 the conflict remains unresolved. With Morocco occupying most of the disputed territory many Sahrawi refugees still live in the camps after almost forty years - the exact numbers are disputed but estimates range between 45,000 and 165,000. A UN proposed plebiscite on independence has been repeatedly blocked with the connivance of the Western powers, and in the ensuing vacuum the killings have continued, with at least ten dead in a Moroccan raid on a Sahrawi camp in 2010. The UN has now designated the Western Sahara one of world's last remaining major non-self governing territories. Yet media coverage of this protracted humanitarian tragedy is sparse, leaving protest music as the main way of drawing attention to the fate of the Sahrawis.

Mabruk is the latest album from Aziza Brahim, who is being acclaimed as the new voice of the Sahrawi people. She practices musical activism and can no longer visit the occupied zones as she is considered an enemy of Morocco and fears imprisonment and torture. Several tracks on the new album set verses by her grandmother Ljadra Mint Mabruk, a celebrated Sahrawi poet, and her daughter mixes blues, rock and funk with traditional Sahrawi percussion in a passionate protest against injustice. It is all a far cry from the “first comes the belly, then comes morality” of today’s music industry. But it is very close to the credo that Pablo Casals spelt out years ago -

An affront to human dignity is an affront to me; and to protest against injustice is a matter of conscience. Are human rights of less importance to an artist than to other men? Does being an artist exempt him from his obligations as a man? If anything, the artist has an even greater responsibility, because he has been granted special sensitivities and perceptions and because his voice may be heard when others may not. Who, indeed, should be more concerned that the artist about the defence of liberty and free inquiry? Such fundamentals are essential to his very creativity.
This article is a contribution to UK Black History Month, October 2012 My copy of Mabruk was bought in France. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images etc to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Pliable said…
Video taster here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbwgshItdEE

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