Abbar el Hamada Aziza Brahim Glitterbeat/Planet La Voz Indomita Mariem Hassan Nubenegra No two musicians have done more to raise global awareness of the plight of Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony that was their homeland until Morocco secured administrative control in the 1970s, than singers Aziza Brahim and Mariem Hassan. Members of the nation’s indigenous Saharawi population, the divas are still strutting their stuff from elsewhere: Brahim from her base in Spain; Hassan posthumously, having died in a southwest Algerian refugee camp in 2015 — less than six months after recording the solo unaccompanied track that provides a poignant farewell on her valedictory album, La Voz Indomita. “The Indomitable Voice” collates some fiercely passionate previously unreleased songs recorded during her final five years.
Brahim’s latest album is less strident than Hassan’s swan song. Several of her new songs bear the mesmerising desert blues rhythm more closely associated with Tuareg musicians in the southern Saharan northern region of Mali. Most are imbued with a Latin feel more closely aligned to the music of Barcelona, where she recorded Abbar el Hamada — like its predecessor, Soutak — under the expert supervision of Glitterbeat label co-founder-producer and Dirtmusic member Chris Eckman.
The influences of her adopted Catalan home are evident in Buscando La Paz, the cruisy Latino pop opener that opens the set. Abbar el Hamada has a West African lilt in step with its title, an expression used by the Saharawi people to describe the rocky desert area along the AlgerianWestern Saharan frontier where tens of thousands of Saharawi people are domiciled. La Cordillera Negra has laid-back AfroCuban ambience, with tasty guitar and percussion breaks. El Canto de la Arena, a beautifully sung and melodious fado-styled ballad, carries a haunting woodwind solo. Calles de Dajla begins with ululations from Brahim, whose singing ranges from angelic to angry, depending on lyrics.
Ululating is the trademark of Hassan’s powerful singing and songs, some of which are preceded by mawwals, a traditional genre of Arabic vocal music. Translations reveal unsurprisingly sad lyrics about her homeland, but also tender treatises on love. Like her compatriot, she incorporates Western styling — most strikingly jazz. Hassan’s soaring vocals work symbiotically with trumpet and piano on two tracks and in a deadly duet with trumpet on a stark song related to conflict. A plea on behalf of global orphans features Hassan in a duet with Seydu, a Sierra Leonean refugee whose crooning provides a welcome contrast to Hassan’s intensity. Elsewhere, she swaps verses with a Yemenite-Israeli vocalist before they join forces for a thrilling finale.