Tag Archives: Mariem Hassan

Sound ‘Round: Omar Souleyman / Mariem Hassan

To hell with your travel ban, Mr. Trump

Omar Souleyman – To Syria, With Love (Mad Decent)

Earth’s most famous Syrian expat never wanted such a title. He began his career in 1994 wanting only to be the best wedding singer in the Middle East. Hundreds of bootleg recordings and one humanitarian crisis later finds him the reluctant figurehead of a movement he avoided. How did we get here? Because a) he was known to the West four years before Damascus crumbled and is therefore a visible figure and b) the music is a tremendous exhibit of dabke, a genre of Syrian dance-pop. In six years of civil war with millions dead, his music existed in a bubble. Zigzagging synths and relentless polyrhythms spared no silence for the dead and his lyricism eschewed bloodshed for love as rapture and dismay — again, he’s wedding singer. Five of these seven songs are in his hopelessly romantic wheelhouse. While there’s something to be said for escapism, Souleyman addresses the 500 pound international disaster in the room on the final two tracks. Translated lyrics: “I’m tired of looking for home and asking about my loved ones / My soul is wounded.” The songs are topical, not political, more heart than head, and all grief. “Look upon us, O Lord / Our sadness is larger than mountains.” Here’s hoping Souleyman and other refugees someday return to a peaceful home. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Khayen” / “Aneta Lhabbeytak” / “Chobi”

Mariem Hassan – La Voz Indomita (Nubenegra)

Before Mariem Hassan and her uncontainable contralto were silenced by bone cancer in 2015 at the age of 58, she was a singular talent who performed the world over on behalf of her people, other nationless refugees and oppressed women everywhere. Here is a woman so strong-willed and determined that she divorced her first husband when he forbade her from pursing a music career. The bulk of Hassan’s discography was recorded in Barcelona where she worked as a nurse and performed with Sahwari refugees such as herself. This album doubles as a soundtrack to a Spanish-language documentary and was recorded in the last five years of her life. Though plagued by health issues, Hassan’s vocals are a beautiful, unwavering wonder to behold. Whether breathlessly soaring above arid and ornate instrumentation, or slithering and hissing her voice through a trio of desert jazz improvs, her voice is as resolute as her spirit. No song here is more resolute than the finale, an acapella coda recorded in a refugee tent near Algeria five months before she passed. It runs just 115 seconds but says more about death, existence and love than most other death albums articulate in 115 minutes — and it’s not even in English. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Latlal” / “Illah Engulak Di Elkalma” / “Hajii Madiya”

Sound ‘Round: The Julie Ruin / Mariem Hassan

Battle-tested women. 

The Julie Ruin – Run Fast (TJR)

the julie ruin - run fastThe debut from Kathleen Hanna’s third band resurrects the name of her 1997 one-off solo venture. Retrofitted with an ensemble as sharp as her feminist politics, they find a middle ground between the punk bombast of Bikini Kill and the electronic sugar rush of Le Tigre. At 44, she’s grown from a riot grrrl to a riot wife. Her bratty snarl of a voice is less menacing but remains peppy and pissed. The music staves off complacency with deft use of synths, bongos and Dick Dale guitar runs. According to the auteur, nearly half these songs wrestle with the grim topic of euthanasia. Aside from the obviously titled “Goodnight Goodbye,” the first song to crack four minutes, however, the subject matter appears to wrestle with grrrlhood, female independence and a few songs about her Beastie Boy husband Adam Horovitz. The tunes are rough around the edges but are also playfully brash and deceptively melodic. Who said anything about a midlife crisis? She sounds alive and firmly in control. GRADE: A-

Key Tacks: Run Fast” / “Girls Like Us” / “Oh Come On

Mariem Hassan – El Aaiún Egdat (Nubenegra, 2012)

mariem hassanBorn in the sands of Spanish occupied Morocco to a family of nomads, much of Hassan’s youth and early adulthood was defined by the Western Sahara War – a 15-year conflict between Moroccan imperialists and indigenous Sahrawi tribes. Three of her brothers were lost to bloodshed and Hassan’s tenure as a refugee nurse did little to abate the trauma. She moved to Spain in 2002 and lives in relative tranquility with her family, but her music, an amalgam of desert blues, folk and roots, retains much of her desert influences. Purposefully arid, the percussion is often tribal and sparse, and the instrumentation nimble and hushed. This third album incorporates saxophones which add supple jazz flourishes and compliment her lithe, sultry vocals. At 14 songs with an average run time of five minutes, the whole thing goes too long and my western ears can’t help but grow complacent midway through. Good thing the title doubles as cliff notes. Translating to “El Aaiún on fire,” in reference to the Arab Spring protests, her sympathies lie with freedom, justice and peace. She’s got soul and she’s a soldier. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Arfa” / “Arrabi al Arabe” / Addumua”