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Studio time for Western Sahara refugees

By Rama Ba in London
Posted on Wednesday, 19 December 2012 18:58

In 2007, a group of musicians picked from refugee camps in south-western Algeria made one of Africa’s best albums of the year, with songs that mixed chants from the Sahara
desert with local styles, jazz, R&B and flamenco.

The album, Sandtracks by Tiris, was followed by international tours, and it was re-released last year.

Though the Sahara desert has produced global hits from the likes of Tuareg rockers Tinariwen, very little has emerged from Western Sahara.

A large number of Saharawi people have fled Morocco-controlled Western Sahara and live in refugee camps in Algeria.

Along with singers Mariem Hassan and Aziza Brahim, Tiris was one of the only groups representing Saharawi culture outside of their homeland.

The organisation behind the group’s formation has a new project to open up recording studios and to help put Saharawi music on the map.

Providing training and basic materials, it hopes to help build a local music industry, something which neighbouring countries such as Mali and Morocco have done so successfully.

“Music has been a keystone for expressing the [political] struggle,” says Danielle Smith from Sandblast Arts, the UK- based organisation running the Studio-Live project.

“But 70% of the population are under the age of 25.

They’ve lost touch with their roots through being educated abroad, from migration, from television.

They lack a voice and they don’t have a platform on which to express themselves.”

Over the next three years, Studio-Live aims to set up a music centre in each of the five camps, complete with recording equipment.

Work has already started at 27 February Camp in Algeria.

It could provide a platform for new bands to emerge, and for old bands, such as the fabled El Wali, to regroup.

There will also be a mobile library so that musicians can rent amplifiers and microphones cheaply.

“Young Saharawis have a hard time even hearing Saharawi music,” says Smith.

“There’s criticism that their music is heavily influenced by Mauritanian music, but that’s because they can’t hear their own music.

There’s an urgency to record their music from the war period.

People feel they could lose all their oral culture in the next generation”●

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