Music a potent weapon in the Saharawi struggle

Mariam Hassan, a Sahawari singer who takes her people's struggle around the world..
Saturday, February 8, 2014

Talking about music might sound strange for people who live in refugee camps and are deeply burdened with many other problems needing to be voiced.

But the huge role music played in the Saharawi people's struggle for independence leaves me with no choice e but to try to talk a little about the magical role revolutionary songs are playing in my people’s daily fight for self-determination.

Since 1975, when Western Sahara was occupied by Morocco and the Saharawis first came to the refugee camps in south-west Algeria, the situation has been critical. Not only have we suffered a lack of shelter and food, but the war with Morocco brought many deaths.

During the time of war, between 1975 and 1991, Saharawi women were left alone with their children in the camps. They were obliged to take hold of all life aspects.

They not only took control of hospitals, schools and the administrative affairs. But they managed to raise a highly determined generation to which I’m proud to belong.

Many Saharawi women, despite their daily struggle in the refugee camps, emerged as revolutionary singers, determined to depict their sufferings and everlasting hope for victory. Despite a shortage of musical instruments, they used their soft and tender voices to express their pain singing for their land and their men who were in the battlefields fighting the Moroccan army.

Our singers had and still have a big role in flaming our national spirits; their words are the bridge between my generation and others.

For my generation, who were born and raised in the refugee camps and never been able to see our land, we have been given the chance to travel and visit its landscapes via songs and poems. These depict every aspect of our revolution and describe every detail of our landscape and the way of life the Saharawis had before the war.

Many revolutionary singers emerged during the early days in the camps not because of their musical qualities as such. Rather it was their enthusiasm and commitment to voice the nostalgia and home sickness that burdens and drains every Saharawi given our long years of exile.

Music was the best companionship for the Saharawi during the days of war. It helped them to overcome loneliness and fear until the ceasefire in 1991. Since then, even the themes of songs have changed, which are now more focused on transmitting Saharawi culture to the world and reflect our daily life in the camps.

Other songs depict our traditional life so that people of my generation, who were born in the camps, will be aware of the life our ancestors led.

Many of our singers are now very famous, such as Mariam Hassan, Salma (Shweita), Umdlaila, Aziza Brahim, Mufid, Ali and many others. They have become ambassadors for our cause, taking our pain and hopes worldwide and voicing the history of our forgotten struggle.

As a Saharawi and a freedom fighter, I owe much to our revolutionary singers for their wonderful role in our struggle and for transmitting our heritage via their tender, soothing and committed voices. With their songs, they further our noble and legitimate right for self-determination and independence from Morocco.

[Minetu Larabas Sueidat lives in the Boujador Saharawi refugee camp in Algeria.]