By Maha ElNabawi
Subtle seeds of change have started to blossom through the liberation of artistic expression, since former Tunisian president Zine Al-Abdine Bin Ali’s ousting in January.
Cue Badiaa Bouhrizi — the underground Tunisian singer/songwriter whose Ethno-musical positions reflect passionate socio-political convictions and the dilemma of personal freedom.
Bouhrizi, who performed this past Thursday in El Genaina Theater as part of Al Mawred Al Thaqafy’s annual Hayy festival, sat down with Daily News Egypt to discuss her music, politics, and the absolute importance of the free spirit.
“I believe every free spirit is a revolutionary at heart and I want to express this feeling through my music and keep my spirit alive,” said Bouhrizi. “You see, the free spirit refuses oppression — only fear can kill the spirit.
“To have a free spirit, one must go beyond fear. No one person can take away your eternal freedom; they can only convince you to take your own.”
There is a passionate conviction that fuels Bouhrizi’s message. Her younger brother Khaled, also a musician, was imprisoned three years ago under alleged drug charges. Khaled had been gaining increased scrutiny from Ministry of Interior for his politically charged rap lyrics that directly addressed the corruption of Bin Ali’s regime, leading him to seven-year in detainment.
“Prior to the revolution, musicians couldn’t really mock the system publically. But rappers like my brother always pushed the limit. In general, rap tends to translate the truths of reality. My brother made me understand the importance of being true in my music.
“I feel my role as an artist is to address the things that people are too fearful to say, expressing our solidarity. While my music seeks to find the beauty in everything, I’ve learned that too much beauty kills beauty. You have to address the realness in the world.”
Bouhrizi’s lyrics, however, are not always politically oriented. Many of her songs are centered on love and epic tales of human sentiment.
“Singing about love is not cheap when it comes from the heart; nothing is cheap when it is rooted in truth.”
Bouhrizi’s motivational messages permeated through the audience during her performance in Azhar Park’s Geneina Theater last Thursday. With a shortage of seating, the arena was overflowing with audience members who had no problem sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the stage, only an arm’s length away from the radiant Bouhrizi.
Armed with a Spanish acoustic guitar and a dynamic vocal prowess, Bouhrizi and talented German percussionist, David Kuckhermann, placed the audience in a trance with soulful sonnets sung in Fusha (classical or literary Arabic).
Influenced by jazz, rock, reggae and traditional Malouf (classical Tunisian music) Bouhrizi’s current solo project, “Nessatou,” aims to portray the essence of the North African spirit.
Bouhrizi’s commitment to the free spirit allows her to instill loaded content into her music, keeping her from directly addressing politics on a constant basis. In the song dedicated to her brother, “Manifesto,” she sings: “I long for the dawn breeze that wakes up the fields/That talks of the truth, and trusts in the unknown.”
Despite her petite frame, an overwhelming intrinsic spirituality pours out of her, heard in her lyrics and felt through her folk oral traditions and powerful vocal range.
Her songs channel the spirits of old female desert dwellers and Africa, juxtaposed with Kuckhermann’s range of oriental and occidental percussions creating a soulful, rich dialogue separate from her lyrics.
Using unique instruments such as the hang, a Swiss made steel drum in the shape of a flying saucer that creates its sound through vibrations, Kuckhermann thrilled the audience with a riveting solo performance towards the end.
“David is brilliant on percussions,” Bouhrizi said, “He has this spiritual dimension and a theatrical sense when he plays. I really love it.”
If music is the language of the soul, then Bouhrizi is certainly a worthy messenger. Whether she is seeking inspiration from singers like Om Kalthoum and Fairouz, or reciting performance poetry by Fawda Touqan, Bouhrizi is rapidly catching the attention of Tunisians and Arabs alike.
Local percussionist and audience member, Mohamed Riyad, said, “I have never in my life heard anything like that, between her powerful voice and his [Kuckhermann] style of playing; it was an incredible performance. And she was always smiling. ”
For the attendants, the concert was a reminder of just how much music plays a role in communicating the human spirit, a vision, a movement.
It seems that increasingly more musicians in the Arab World are concocting projects that harness their political and creative sensibilities — and their international profiles — to both raise awareness and improve upon basic human rights.
A lesson can be learned from Bouhrizi and her free spirit. Art, in its various forms can be an alternative means of socio-political activism to affect change and pave the future.
“We’re in the era of words. Words instead of weapons,” she said.
You can listen to Badiaa Bouhrizi’s music at http://www.myspace.com/neyssatoumusic