Migrants and debates on their entry or otherwise to both the North American and European continents continue to dominate the political agenda in the twenty-first inter-dependent global village we all inhabit. It is fitting, then, that rather than being portrayed as passive recipients, we have in Aziza Brahim both an active respondent to the migrant crisis from a distinctive migrant activist perspective and a singer who in the very recent past has been a political refugee herself, and one who has lived in exile in countries as far apart as Cuba and Spain. She is currently resident in her adopted city of Barcelona in Catalonia. Consequently, the music contained within straddles Afro-Latin, West African blues and even flamenco, and is a joy from start to finish.
Afro-Cuban hues permeate ‘La cordillera negra’ with a slight nod to the Super Rail Band of the 1970s. Fine intricate guitar work from Senegalese musician Kalilou Sangare is matched by the heavy percussion. The music works best when it openly embraces a fusion of folk styles and this is certainly the case on ‘El canto de la arena’, which is a flamenco ballad meets West African blues with a haunting flute that recalls the bansuri flute of the Indian continent.
There is something of a Tinariwen feel to ‘Calles de la dajla’ where the guitar riff subtly hints at the influence of Ali Farka Touré. Cuba and Africa come together on the overriding message of the album, ‘Buscando la paz’ (Searching for peace) and Aziza Brahim displays a more global geo-political awareness of events and this had guided her choice of subject matter for this particular album.
Aziza Brahim was in fact raised in a refugee camp in the Algerian desert and has spent a significant part of her life living in exile. The album is chock full of allusions to the socio-political conditions of the Saharawai people, a marginalised minority group within Algerian (and more widely throughout the Maghreb). Little wonder, then, that Brahim should compose a piece about breaking down walls as in ‘Los muros’. This refers to the Moroccan fortification along the West Saharan border, but could equally operate as a thinly disguised riposte to certain American presidential candidates who make a virtue out of erecting walls along the US-Mexican border and then have the temerity to ask the country of emigration to pay for it’s installation. According to Aziza Brahim’s visions of such edifices, imaginative spirit can help human beings to transcend walls specifically built to either keep people out, or alternatively to hem minority groups within. Both are equally pernicious from Brahim’s perspective.
The previous album, ‘Soutak’ from 2014 was critically acclaimed by the specialist world roots press, but, if anything, the new album is a good deal stronger and more cohesive in its overriding objectives. This could be an early contender for world fusion album of the year and, in terms of the heartfelt passions expressed by the singer at least, is worthy of a prize in it’s own right.