Review: Aziza Brahim @ Union Chapel (London, 22nd September 2016)

You simply need to look at her, her eyes and expression to understand the nature of the experiences, adventures and encounters that Aziza Brahim has gone through in her life. The Sahrawi singer/songwriter, true mouthpiece of her people’s daily fight to be recognised, has spent her entire existence as a refugee. She was born and grew up in a refugee camp in Algeria, after her mother had to flee Western Sahara amidst the 1975 Moroccan invasion. When she was 11, she moved to Cuba to study then finally settled in Barcelona in 2000. There she developed her musical career, a journey which brought her to perform on the Union Chapel stage recently during the London African Music Festival.

She was one of the highlights of the two-week long event, because, after almost 10 years as a solo artist, Aziza has reached a level of maturity and excellence usually reserved for truly great artists. As written, Aziza Brahim is today one of the foremost musical advocates of the Sahrawi cause. She uses her art as a loudspeaker to both embody and expose the plight of her people. As a matter of fact, and as you can easily understand as soon as she starts performing her songs, hers is no ordinary voice. Next to being born with a gifted voice, Aziza has also absorbed influences from the different traditions she has touched. She crafts features from Northern Africa, flamenco, Western Mediterranean and Caribbean music and blends them to create her characteristic sound. Her stage partners mirror this fusion of cultural ingredients too, adding Western African percussion and Latin string feelings to the set.

In this way, Aziza Brahim can fully interpret the stories inspired by her own and other refugees’ experiences. She alternates her native Hassānīya (a dialect spoken by Bedouin tribes) to Spanish, but that didn’t present any problems for the London audience. Aziza was indeed able to bring to life the Hamada, one of the emblematic Saharan landscapes and set of many songs of the singer. The quietness and evocative atmosphere offered by the Union Chapel simplified Aziza’s task, but it’s not an easy business to transport an audience from their everyday, city-dwelling worries and guide them “across the Hamada”. She succeeded thanks to some of the most rhythmic and inspired works from her latest album, performing pieces such as ‘Calles de Dajla’ and ‘Julud’. She achieved her aim, naturally displaying her tenacious personality.