Album Reviews

Aziza Brahim – Mawja

(Glitterbeat) UK release date: 23 February 2024

Western Saharan singer returns with her fifth album which sees her continue to carry the voice of her country with confidence, purpose and compassion

Aziza Brahim - Mawja The Western Sahara might not have produced the same level of musical output as some of its big-hitting neighbours like Mali, Senegal and Ghana but it has longstanding musical traditions that in recent years have received fresh interpretation from singer Aziza Brahim. The roots of her fifth album Mawja lie in her recollections of her experiences when growing up in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and specifically discovering music via the radio (the title translates as “wave”, a reference to the medium wave and FM stations that would deliver fresh new sounds via the transistor radios of the camps).

Mawja features 10 tracks, each cut broadly from the same richly embroidered, colourful cloth that has defined previous albums Soutak, Abbar El Hamada and Sahari. Supple, understated percussion sits alongside warm, softly imparted guitar with the focus being provided by Brahim’s distinctive, mellifluous vocals. The songs are measured and restrained but arrive with impact and appeal. Brahim now splits her time between Spain and the Western Sahara and this geographical balance is reflected in the music as warm, laid back vibes sit alongside more direct lyrical concerns. Brahim’s passion for her country and its people remains as strong as ever and Mawja only arrived after she overcame periods of turbulence and adversity to force it into existence (the pandemic was soon followed by the recurrence of conflict between Western Sahara and Morocco, and then she experienced personal sadness with the passing of her grandmother).

Opening track Bein Trab U Iihjar has a deeply felt urgency without being overbearing. Like all songs on the album, the lyrics are sung in Hassanyia, the dialect of the Sahrawi people. The following track Thajiliba is perhaps the most successful on the album, balancing a melodic immediacy with a deeper sense of longing. It sees Brahim address her daughter, the opening lines translating as “I love my daughter with her uniqueness and her values and everything else doesn’t matter to me”.

Duaa sees a slight drop in pace, more contemplative and dreamily languid while on Ljaima Iikbira she reconciles plaintive vocals over a brisk, dexterous musical backdrop (both serve as eulogies to her grandmother). The title track features pleasing dynamic shifts and the guitar-led Metal, Madera has an animated shape and rolling structure that make for a winning combination (Brahim also revealed how it was inspired by some of her favourite songs by The Clash). Final track Fuadi begins with the sound of woodwind, seemingly calling out over the Western Saharan landscape, a reflective note on which to end. It brings to a close another successful outing for Brahim who continues to carry the voice of her country with confidence, purpose and compassion.

buy Aziza Brahim MP3s or CDs
Spotify Aziza Brahim on Spotify

More on Aziza Brahim
Aziza Brahim – Mawja
Aziza Brahim – Sahari
Track-by-Track: Aziza Brahim – Abbar El Hamada
Aziza Brahim – Abbar el Hamada
Sahara Soul @ Barbican, London