Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mariem Hassan

  • Deseos [Nubenegra, 2008] B+
  • Shouka [Nubenegra, 2010] ***
  • El Aaiún Egdat [Nubenegra, 2012] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Deseos [Nubenegra, 2008]
This strong Saharaui woman is one more singing cynosure whose solo debut proves she needed her band. Without the backing of Leyoad and especially the male counterpoint of Jalihena, she permits herself unaccompanied meditations where she has trouble maintaining the same intensity of concentration, ours and possibly hers. Hassan remains a voice to be heard. But if you start drifting away, cue up the groove tracks "El Chouhada" and "Kalat Leili." B+

Shouka [Nubenegra, 2010]
Sahrawi powerhouse finds new Sahrawi guitarist and rides the haul music they share as hard as she can--for non-Sahrawis, maybe a little too hard ("Maatal-La," "Haiyu") ***

El Aaiún Egdat [Nubenegra, 2012]
Now pursuing an active musical career from Catalonia, this ex-nurse from the Western Saharan possesses the most remarkable vocal instrument to emerge from northern Africa--a searing contralto, serious yet excitable and often transported, that can cut into anyone's indifference. Born in 1958 like Rachid Taha, she's had it a lot harder--refugee camp, divorce, breast cancer, guitarist lost to leukemia. Nor does she project much of Taha's showbiz pragmatism--her calling is the Sahrawi style called haul, which on 2010's Shouka she and a new guitarist showcased in all its chorus-driven, prayerlike, insular intensity. By comparison, this one's forgiving enough to lift a tourist's spirits--there's some saxophone, and the melodies bid buenas dias. And then, two thirds of the way in, guitar and harmonica state a theme that may take a while to ID--holy moley, it's Betty Wright's "Clean Up Woman," plus ululations and a friendly sax solo--and the rest of the album loosens up some more before climaxing with seven minutes of avant closer. Back in camp they may think that makes her a sinner. Folkies may grouse as folkies will. But I say she's trying to have some fun, and that she and we deserve it. A-