I follow the religion of love wherever the camels turn
Ibn 'Arabi told how "I follow the religion of love wherever the camels turn". Recently my similar but far more modest search took me to the city of Guelmim in southern Morocco. Guelmim, which holds a weekly camel market, is known as the 'gateway to the desert', and is the capital of the Guelmim-Es Semara region which includes southern Morocco and the disputed northern Western Sahara. South of Guelmim is the territory of the Sahrawi people; the city is the base for many brave activists supporting the oppressed Sahrawi's, and I wrote about the Sahrawi musician and activist Aziza Brahim in 2012. What I wrote then has a particular relevance to a recent guest contribution: so the following is a verbatim extract from my earlier post.
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 by Morocco 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 granddaughter mixes blues, rock and funk with traditional Sahrawi percussion in a passionate protest against injustice.
* Since this was written in 2012 Aziza Brahim has released the acoustic album Soutak. No freebies involved in this post. All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2015. Any other copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.