Promoting Saharawi voices through music
Project summary:

Studio-Live aims to facilitate the development of a Saharawi music industry in in the refugee camps, in the Algerian Sahara, over the next three years. It also hopes to contribute towards the preservation of their threatened oral heritage. The project activities will primarily focus on working with emerging and more established music talent and encourage the participation of women and youth.  Working in close collaboration with the Saharawi Ministry of Culture, in the camps, and UK- based partners such as FairTunes, Refugee Radio, SOAS Radio and The Moringa Tree, Studio-Live will be responding to Saharawi aspirations to be able to reach international audiences through their music, promote their culture and express their struggle peacefully.

Main activities will entail:

  • Professional workshops to build instrumental, artistic and music-business skills. These workshops will aim to provide a global understanding of the way the music industry works. 
Figure 1. Shueta, 
a traditional Saharawi singer
  • Technical skills training through sound engineering workshops, both for recording and live. 
  • Creation of a mobile music resource library to make instruments and sound equipment available for rental to all Saharawis seeking to pursue their musical ambitions. 
  • Setting up and running a recording studio to professional standards. This studio would be a community resource and also support current efforts to record and preserve the threatened Saharawi oral traditions, envisioned by the mission of the International Observatory for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage in the Western Sahara. 
  • Stimulating international collaborations with Saharawi musicians, and strengthening their ability to promote themselves through new distribution channels.

Main outcomes:

Figure 2. Rehearsing with young
Saharawi musicians

  • Growth of Saharawi artistic profiles through the internet promoted at professional levels
  • Production of high quality digital music and existence of local and international radio outlets for Saharawi music and culture. 
  • Know-how to run commercially viable local and international music events in the refugee camps, such as international music festival planned and managed by the refugees themselves

Origins of the project:

In 2007, Sandblast organized the first Festival of Saharawi Arts and Culture in London at Rich Mix. It brought 20 artists over from the refugee camps to participate and attracted over 2500 people over three days.  The eight-member based band, Tiris, which also toured 6 UK cities, made a huge impression and engaged the hearts and ears of widely diverse audiences. Their debut album Sandtracks (produced by Sandblast) was given a five star review in Songlines and more recently got a four- star review in The Guardian for its digital re-release.

Figure 3. Camp-based 
Saharawi band Tiris
The overall experience enabled us to see the real potential of  music to get the Saharawis on the map, much like it has done for the Malians or Cubans in recent times. It also gave us a chance to appreciate how much talent exists in the camps and understand better the current obstacles to its development. For this reason, we believe that, with the right kind of support, the Saharawis can gain wider recognition in a relatively short time through their music. 

About the Saharawis:

The Saharawi homeland of Western Sahara - roughly the size of Great Britain - was colonized by Spain for 100 years until 1975. Under Morocco’s occupation it is now the last colony in Africa. The tens of thousands of Saharawis living there have become a minority in their own land, enjoying few rights and freedom.
They are separated from the Saharawis refugees in Algeria by a 2700km long Moroccan built wall which divides their territory. Numbering around 150,000, the refugees are spread out over five large camps and are entirely dependent on precarious flows of food aid for their survival.

Figure 4. Map of the region
In pre-colonial times the former nomadic and tribal Saharawis roamed an area known as Trab El-Beidan, in search of water and green pastures for their camel herds. It was larger than the current borders of Western Sahara, stretching from southern Morocco in the north to the Senegal river in the south and to the Atlantic coast to the west and the Hamada desert in the east. Because the tribes constantly followed the rain, they were known as the People of the Clouds.

Over centuries, a fusion of Berber, West African, Yemenite and Islamic influences shaped their cross-roads desert culture which was built on rich oral traditions. Poetry was revered as one of the highest forms of human expression and Saharawi traditions, memory and identity were passed on orally from generation to generation. The impact of protracted refugee life and Morocco's integrationist policies in Western Sahara, however, have seriously disrupted this process of cultural transmission and, as the elders die out, many aspects of Saharawi culture risk disappearing entirely over the next generation.

Figure 5. Young emerging band Zeeza
Two generations of Saharawis have now grown up entirely in the refugee camps with little knowledge of their roots and history. Saharawis of 18 years old and under now account for over 59% of the refugee population. In the absence of a lasting solution to the ongoing conflict in Western Sahara, this youth have few prospects of experiencing fulfilling, productive and culturally enhancing lives.

Our partners:
Fairtunes is an organization constituted by music industry experts dedicated to build recording studios and train sound engineers in marginalized areas around the world. This organization will play an important role in the skills training of the refugees.

Refugee Radio runs projects in the community to help bring people together and counter the misrepresentations of refugees and asylum seekers in the media.

SOAS Radio, the university radio of the School of Oriental and African Studies, has actively participated in the establishment of community radio stations in diverse places around Africa. We are examining the possibility of building a community radio station in the camps that helps the Saharawi music produced in the camps to reach international audiences.

London-based, The Moringa Tree’s activities include the organization of music festivals in developing countries with a high community-based participation. Their collaboration for the pilot music festival at the end of the project will be crucial to ensure that this will be run by the Saharawis themselves in a sustainable way.

How you can get involved:
  • Run the Sahara
  • Volunteer for Sandblast
  • Share your skills
  • Donate or fundraise for the project

Your donations are vital to our mission:

£100 enables us to pay a refugee family to host a workshop leader for one week
£250 enables us to buy a sound card for studio recording training workshops
£500 enables us to buy four acoustic guitars for the music resource library or five professional microphones
£1000 enables us to cover the fees for a workshop leader for two weeks
£5000 enables us to deliver a one month training workshop in sound engineering

If you would like to become a partner, have a great idea about how to move Studio-Live forward, want to fundraise or volunteer, or simply say hi, we’d love to hear from you!  Leave a comment below or write an email.

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