Friday, 29 June 2012

Into the Deep, by Nick Jubber

It felt like the world was dying. After the lush green hills of North Morocco and the palmeraie of the south, now I was surrounded by nothing except for vast dunes of powdery dust.
The desert of Laayoune, Nick Jubber
  I had boarded an overnight bus at Inezgane, one of Morocco’s chief transport hubs. Sitting around me were a group of teenage boys who were all returning from a camping trip. It had been organised by the Justice and Development Party – currently the largest party in the Moroccan parliament.
  ‘Oh yes, we are all Saharawis,’ one of them, Ibrahim, told me. No, he admitted, his parents hadn’t actually been born there, ‘but there is a lot of work to be done because Western Sahara is in need of development.’ One of his friends, Mehdi, was more forthright. ‘You need to understand something,’ he said. ‘Maybe you will meet people and they will say they are the only true Saharawis. But they want us to do all the work for them. My father and his father,’ he continued, wagging a finger at Ibrahim, ‘they are the people who are making this land something more.’ This issue – the settlers and their children versus the indigenous Saharawis – has become one of the core issues in Western Sahara, especially in regard to the proposed UN referendum to decide the fate of the region.
Camels in Laayoune, Nick Jubber
  Blinking into the glare, as the sun floated over the roof of the bus, we looked across the rocky desert towards Laayoune. We passed a wind turbine, a dairy farm and a cement works. Farmsteads built from the abundant local stone skulked beside acacia groves. Most noticeable of all, though, was the checkpoint: a small pink kiosk where a soldier in grey sat behind his ledger and a tea tray buzzing with flies. Black and white mug-shots of ‘miscreants’ (many of them simply Saharawi activists against the occupation) were tacked to the wall above him. He asked me why I was visiting Laayoune and suggested I move on to Dakhla.
  ‘You can windsurf there,’ he explained.
  Red flags with green five point stars – trumpeting Moroccan sovereignty – fought against the breeze and an archway hooped over us, patterned with seashells in the spandrels. Beyond the Oued Sakiya, military trucks loaded with artillery and Sûreté Nationale vans trundled around us, soldiers in olive-green uniforms picking their way between the early-morning strawberry cart pushers and women in brightly coloured milfhas or men in loose blue dira’a robes. I found myself a room in a downtown hotel above a café frequented by football enthusiasts. I was itching to explore – and to find out for myself what’s really going on in Laayoune.

Stories from the Occupied Territories

We're starting a new series of short stories (in English) by people from occupied Western Sahara or who have travelled there and want to share their experience. Do you want to participate? Just write an email to us with your story and we'll publish it on our blog. Don't forget to include some pictures!

Map of occupied Western Sahara and surrounded
territories painted on a wall in the camp February 27.
Photo by Danielle Smith

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Saharawi arts and culture at the V&A

Last Saturday 23rd June Sandblast, with the support of the V&A Museum and in an event linked to Refugee Week, put together 'Out of the Sand - We are Saharawi', a sensational Saharawi arts and culture day at the Sackler's Centre of the museum. The event run from midday until approximately 4.30pm, and involved music, film, talk and a jewellery making workshop.


El Andaluz at the V&A Sackler's Centre
Fantastic Algerian music group El Andaluz Band, made up of Yazid Fentazi (oud), Karim Dellali (darboucka) and special guest Redha Boudbagh (voice and Algerian and oud), kicked off the afternoon with some incredible music. Having collaborated with Saharawi musicians in several occasions in the past (they performed in the jam session at Sahara Nights and Karim has travelled to the Saharawi refugee camps), these musicians offered the audience the perfect musical set up for the day. We were all soon tapping our feet and clapping to the intricate melodies and uplifting rhythms of the classic Arabic and Andalusian music they were performing.


Umm Deleila, Saharawi singer
featured in Beat of Distant Hearts
Danielle Smith, filmmaker, photographer, anthropologist and Sandblast Founding Director, travelled to the Saharawi refugee camps for the first time in 1991. From the very beginning her imagination was captured by the inspiring Saharawi culture and the powerful role the arts, especially the music and poetry, but also the newly developed painting style, had played during the revolution and the 16 years of war (1975-1991). She decided to film a documentary showcasing this part of the story and Beats of Distant Hearts, the Art of the Revolution in Western Sahara was born. Although filmed in 1996, it was not released until 2000. Twelve years later, the film is still relevant today as it shows how the Saharawi arts and culture continue to be the best way of reaching international audiences and raise awareness about the Saharawi situation. After the screening, there was a Q&A with the filmmaker.

In 2007, French Florie Salnot, a design student from the London Metropolitan Art Media & Design was challenged by her professor to develop a design project that could benefit both a community and the environment. Inspired by a talk by Danielle Smith, she developed a unique craft technique using hot sand and plastic bottles, both available in the refugee camps, and taught it to twenty-one Saharawi women to re-discover an ancient tradition of creative expression of their cultural identity.

Danielle shows us the thin strip of plastic
she's cutting off a bottle. At the back,
Florie supervises another workshop attendant

The technique is the following: the plastic bottle is first painted and then cut into thin strips. After that, any type of pattern can be made by positioning nails into the holes of a nail board: the plastic strip is placed around the nails and the whole board is submerged into hot sand. The plastic strip reacts to the heat by shrinking to fit the nail drawing, and keeps its shape when removed. The piece of jewellery then requires a few last steps and fittings to become finished.

On Saturday, Florie gave a workshop at the V&A for the attendants of 'Out of the Sand'. In a couple of hours each of us created a small ring out of thin strips of golden plastic using small copper sticks to shape the pieces of jewellery; it was fascinating to see how an everyday plastic bottle can become something so pretty and decorative!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Sahara Nights review

The Roundhouse Studio-Theatre was filled to the brim last week for Sahara Nights on June 6. The multi-arts launch for the Studio-Live music empowerment project brought the house down with an array of film, photography, short story presentations and wonderful music to provide rich glimpses of the Saharawi world, culture and plight. 

Nigerian playwright and poet Inua Ellams,
Saharawi short stories readings, with Celtic violinist Lizzie Ogle and
Guinean kora player Mosi Conde © See Li

The launch was interlaced with fantastic first-class performances from a wide range of international artists...

Guinean kora player Mosi Conde
with photography by Ed Harriman © Tania Jackson

British-Congolese Binisa Bonner
from Ruby and the Vines © See Li
Venezuelan Luzmira Zerpa
from Family Atlantica © See Li

singer and guitarist
Suilma Aali and percussionist
Nico Roca © Bela Molnar

The evening culminated with a stellar performance from Aziza BrahimBorn in the refugee camps, educated in Cuba and now based in Spain, Aziza is considered the new musical voice of the Saharawis, dedicating all her songs to the struggle. Her music is inspired by her poetess grandmother Mabruk, the only Saharawi female poet who has dedicated all her poetry to documenting the 16 years of war and to whom Aziza has dedicated her new album (released June 11).

Aziza with Spanish guitarist
Gonzalo Ordás © Bela Molnar

Aziza and Gonazalo © See Li
Aziza Brahim © Julia Ridlington

Sahara Nights was capped with the mother of all jam sessions. Virtually all the musicians of the evening joined along with a few new guests from Algeria to rocket the night into another music stratosphere that got the room dancing with abandon.

Final jam session © Julia Ridlington

What people have said:

It was a rich and diverse gathering with original and soulful music and poetry (hearing Aziza live and discovering her grandmother was incredibly emotional). Your passion and dedication for the Saharawi cause and its people was truly palpable. Meriem Aissaoui

Aziza and the Sahara Nights crowd © See Li
A fantastic evening and very informative in a sensitive way. Thomas Elliot

What an amazing evening. Congratulations on such a success, and thanks so much for letting me show part of our film. You know how important your support was to us when we started filming so I'm forever indebted to you. Saeed Taji Farouky

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


Studio-Live launch


·       Ed Harriman, photographer photo slideshow

·       Mosi Conde, kora

·       Suilma Aali, music duo

·       The Runner, by Saeed Taji Farouky, filmmaker   preview clip

·       Inua Ellams, poet and playwright Saharawi short stories reading

·       Danielle Smith, Founding Director of Sandblast talk

·       Steve Stavrinides, Founding Director of Fairtunes talk

·       Luzmira Zerpa and Family Atlantica, music band

BREAK (8.10pm - 8.30pm)

·       Bernat Millet, photographer photo slideshow

·       Sandtracks, Saharawi music CD


·       Inua Ellams, poet and playwright Saharawi short stories reading + music by Lizzie Ogle, violin, and Mosi Conde, kora

·       Ruby and the Vines, music band

·       Lkhadra Mabruk, by Noë Mendelle, filmmaker   preview clip

·       Aziza Brahim, music band

BREAK (9.45pm - 10pm)

·       Andrew McConnell, photographer photo slideshow


            Led by Aziza Brahim

Night compered by Dan Tsu (Lyrix Organix)


These are the two filmmakers, and short a teaser from their films on Western Sahara, featuring in Sahara Nights.

Saeed Taji Farouky is a documentary photographer, filmmaker and writer who specialises in documenting issues of human rights and social justice in the Middle East and North Africa. His work has been published by The Observer, The Telegraph, The Independent, Reuters, BBC Online and The Economist Group amongst others. He is currently a TED Senior Fellow, was previously named Artist-in-Residence at the Tate Britain and The British Museum, and is Director of the award-winning documentary production company Tourist With A Typewriter.

The Runner is a film about endurance. It is the story of a champion long-distance runner whose journey transformed him from an athlete into the symbol of a national liberation movement. Salah Ameidan from Western Sahara is willing to risk his life, his career, his family and his nationality to run for a country that doesn't exist.

Noë Mendelle is particularly interested in aspects of narrative and new directions within the documentary format. Particular research themes include women, migration and stories of transgression. Since the 1980s she has produced and directed over 30 films, mainly for British and French television, widely distributed at international festivals and which have won awards. She also develops documentary networks across countries and continents: "Bridging the Gap" (Scotland); "Constructing Reality" (Europe); "Africadoc" (Portuguese and French speaking African countries). 

Lkhadra Mabruk is a short documentary on camp-based poetess Lkhadra Mabruk, Aziza Brahim’s grandmother. Mabruk was the only Saharawi female poet who documented the 16  years of Saharawi war through her poetry.

More info:
Saeed Taji Farouky:

Monday, 4 June 2012


This is a taster for the amazing photography you'll be seeing at Sahara Nights.

Women raising tents, Ed Harriman
Ed Harriman graduated from Amherst College in Mass., USA. He has dedicated his life to producing political and investigative documentaries and is a regular contributor to the London Book Review. Has worked closely with John Pilger on a number of films and just recently finished a film investigating massive scale US corruption linked with “rebuilding” Iraq.

View of Smara camp, Bernat Millet

Bernat Millet is a Spanish London-based photographer and visual media artist who recently won the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize (2011), having one of his pictures on Saharawi landmine victims exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery (London). His project Saharawis aims to expose the consequences of state violence by Moroccan forces as well as the ineffectual efforts of the UN and international community to resolve the situation. 

Starry night, Andrew McConnell
Andrew McConnnell is an award-winning Irish photographer who began his career as a press photographer covering the closing stages of the conflict in his homeland before transitioning to more in-depth social documentary work around the world. His images have appeared internationally in publications such as National Geographic Magazine, Newsweek, Time magazine, The New York Times, The Guardian, FT Magazine, Vanity Fair, the Sunday Times Magazine, Der Spiegel, L’espresso, and Internazionale. His collection The Last Colony is an innovative and highly personal portrayal of the Saharawi people.

More info:
Andrew McConnell:

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Mosi Conde

One more of our great artists from Sahara Nights.

Mosi Conde is a West African artist now living in London. He specialises in voice, percussion and West African string including Kora (21 string African harp), Ngoni (4-6 string wooden lute), Balafon (wooden xylaphone) Guitar, Bolong (african bass), Western bass, kit drum, djembe, dun dun, you name it!! Mosi is a young griot from Guinea Conakry’s leading family: Sekouba ‘Diamond fingers’ Diabate is his uncle and his family are the inspiration for extended family and friends from Mory Kante to Salif Keita. Not yet 30, Mosi already has a long professional career to his name having started playing the many instruments he is master of at 4 and touring from 15. Much in demand to play with every leading African band, Mosi now introduces his own matchless crew drawing in superb fellow musicians. As a soloist Mosi Conde has played at WOMAD, for Nelson Mandela and at numerous festivals and gatherings and brings all this experience to leading Kaira Kora Africa. (Info from MySpace)

More about Mosi:

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Luzmira Zerpa and Family Atlantica

Sahara Nights is around the corner! Today we introduce...

Luzmira Zerpa is one of the most celebrated Venezuelan artists working in the UK today. She comes from the immensely rich lineage of Venezuelan folk music and plays traditional instruments such as the cuatro (Venezuelan four string guitar) and maracas. Her powerful voice and stage presence have enchanted audiences across Europe, in venues such as Chesky Krumlov Castle, London’s Barbican, the Royal Academy 
of Music, Purcell Room among others. She has collaborated with some of the worlds finest musicians such as Alirio Diaz and Pavel Steidl. She is the founder of music and dance group Family Atlantica.

More info:

Friday, 1 June 2012

Inua Ellams

More wonderful artists performing at Sahara Nights!

Born in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria ‘1984, Inua Ellams is a Word and Graphic Artist, a writer with a style as influenced by Classic literature as it is by hip hop, by Keats as it is by MosDef. Rooted in a love for rhythm and language, he crosses 18th century romanticism & traditional story telling with contemporary diction, loose rhythm and rhyme. However, his first love was visual art; the first time he toyed with a pencil, he fell for the magic of line and form. He works extensively as a graphic designer / visual artist and also tries to mix the old with the new juxtaposing texture and pigment with flat shades of color and digitally created designs. He works in online and print. (Info from MySpace)

Inua will be reading amazing stories by Saharawi ex-political prisoner Mustafa Abdel Dayem.

More info about Inua:
Phaze 05:
Inua Ellams:
Twitter: @InuaEllams