Nouakchott, Nouakchott, MRT

Despite a ban on singing her love songs that lasted a decade, the Mauritanian musician Malouma has never stopped playing, singing and expressing herself. Today she is considered one of her country's greatest musicians.


Malouma Mint Moktar Ould Meidah was born in the sixties in Mederdra (Trarza), into a family of griots. Her life seemed all mapped out. The daughter of Moktar Ould Meidah, a prominent traditional musician as well as a highly skilled poet, she is also the granddaughter of Mohamed Yahya Ould Boubane, another virtuoso of words and the tidinit (a small traditional guitar used by griots). She grew up in Charatt (a small town near Mederdra), where her parents taught her the basics of traditional harp (ardîne) playing.

She started to sing at a very young age, and performed for the first time at the age of 12, an age when tradition requires that the daughters of important families be already prepared for a 'responsible' life (marriage and self-sufficiency). She started to draw from the traditional repertoire that her parents, especially her father, had enriched. At the age of fifteen, she was already an accomplished griot, not only accompanying her parents but performing whole concerts on her own. At the same period, along with her father, she started to listen to songs by Oum Kalthoum, Adbel Hlim Hafez, Fairouz, Nasri Cherns, Dine, Sabah etc. And as she grew up she also discovered another musical style that was not far from the music she mastered: blues. She wrote small songs that were quite popular with young girls. But the weight of tradition pushed her into the fetters of marriage and conformism.

It took until the late eighties for her to appear on stage again in Mauritania. With a new repertoire, she brought about a true musical revolution among singers. Such pieces as "Habibi habeytou", "Cyam ezzaman tijri", "Awdhu billah"... disrupted the established order. Malouma was aiming to impose a style that drew from the purest tradition and modernised it. The research she undertook was centred on a successful blending of traditional and modern music, the latter providing its instruments and its approach, the first its rich repertoire. Malouma thus became a singer-songwriter, introducing a unity of theme in her songs (oughniya) and not refraining from broaching subjects that were more or less taboo such as love, conjugal life or inequalities.

In her commitment to encourage justice and equality in Mauritania, she involved herself in activist songs to stir people into action, singing for the AIDS campaigns, for the vaccination of children, for the elimination of illiteracy and for the promotion of women, among other things. While her music soon became popular among the youth (girls and boys), it was rejected at first by the dominating class (a few intellectual groups, griots opinion- and decision-makers. She was introducing too many things at once: the evolution of both customs and culture, even questioning the traditional social order and giving artists an importance they had not had before.

In all these years denouncing inequalities, oppression and injustice, she has become 'the singer of the people' (mutribatou echa'b). For all her commitment, she has not forgotten her prime goal, her musical research, toopen Mauritanians to the outside world and to make foreigners discover the treasures of her country's national heritage. "Rasm", "Jraad", "Tchaa'i", "Gnâni", "Nouka"... and many more "achwaar" (traditional pieces) are reinterpreted and reinvented. Malouma has gone even further, trying to harmonise traditional pentatonic Mauritanian music with other folk music forms, notably blues. She has met a group of young Mauritanian musicians, the Sahel Hawl Blues, and they have soon tied bonds. Driven by the same concern to be both rooted in traditional music and open to modern westernmusic the band, made up of ten young musicians, has integrated all the components of modern-day Mauritania: rich inspirational sources and multiple cultures (Moorish, Fulani, Toucouleur, Soninke, Wolof, Haratin...).

Malouma is a national pride and an example, and she has many followers. For that matter, the griot-artist community has finally ack


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