Malouma is the first Mauritanian women to introduce Modern Mauritanian Music. Back in 1998, with her first album 'Desert of Eden', we had the chance to discover in Malouma a talented artist, composer and interpreter, with an extraordinary voice. Her music is a mix of traditional and modern sounds where she is melding western styles to the Moorish music of the Sahara and adding electric guitars to traditional instruments such as the four-stringed, lute-like tidinit.
Anchored in the tradition yet resolutely modern, inspired by the songs of the desert and immersed in the rhythms of the Senegal River, somewhere at the crossroads of West Africa, the Arab and the Berber worlds, between the Sahel and the Savannah, Malouma's music is unique.
Malouma is also known as a militant singer, spokesman for women rights in a Muslim Country.
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 (ardÃ®ne) 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", "GnÃ¢ni", "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 acknowledged her as the first true composer in Mauritania.
"This singer from Mauritania is both a respected artist and a controversial advocate for women's rights. The combination, while not overt in the music, is still felt. She has developed a pan-African and trans-continental style that pays tribute to Mali's guitarists, America's great blues singers and is suffused with Moorish and European influences. Backed by guitars and tidinit, with additions of both folk and modern instrumentation, she has made a recording that veers back and forth between desert folk and Afro-pop with ease and grace"
"From the desert Country of Mauritania comes one of Africa's great singers. Back home, Malouma is something of a controversial celebrity, both for the way she has campaigned for women's rights and the way she has used her role as a griot, from a family of tradition, musicians, to shake up the music scene.
She began to explore the links between the music of the Sahara and the blues, just as performers like Ali Farka Toure or Amadou and Mariam have done across the border in Mali. In the process she has developed a distinctive style of her own.
Backed by guitars and traditional instruments like the guitar-like tidinit, she mixes subtle, slinky blues-edged songs with others that veer from Moorish influences through to what sounds like a new desert fusion of gospel and gently driving R&B.
There are passages that edge towards western pop, but then she's back to her cool, drifting desert blues, her understated voice as varied as her influences"