Franco-Algerian musical icon Souad Massi: “If we lose our humanity, we are lost”

DUBAI: In the darkest times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Souad Massi used to walk down to the river. Water inspired her, made her feel better about herself, helped her think. It was there that she discovered Sequana, the goddess of the Seine.

“It was a very strange and wonderful discovery for me,” says the Franco-Algerian singer-songwriter. “I didn’t know anything about her but she inspired me. She was a healing goddess and that’s what I needed during COVID. It’s what we all needed, I think. I was touched like many people and we lived in fear at that time and had time to reflect. So a lot of things inspired me at that time.

‘Sequana’ is Souad Massi’s 10th studio album and an eclectic mix of genres and moods. (Provided)

The Gallo-Roman deity would not only lend his name to Massi’s new album, but also to its title track. In the latter, she speaks directly to her two young daughters. “I wanted to tell them that life is good, but it doesn’t matter if you have problems, if you are afraid of the future, if you don’t know what job you can do or if you have difficulty in communicate with others,” explains Massi, who was born in Bab-el-Oued, a neighborhood in Algiers, and moved to Paris in 1999. “It’s very hard for them. So I asked Sequana if she could help me, give me courage, because I want to give hope to my daughters.

A collection of 11 songs, nine of which were written by Massi, “Sequana” is the artist’s 10th studio album and an eclectic mix of genres and moods. Slated for a worldwide release on October 14, the launch will be accompanied by a concert at Maraya in AlUla – Massi’s first performance in Saudi Arabia. She will also perform at the Barbican in London on October 29, cementing a stunning new chapter in her career.

Souad Massi has built an enviable reputation over the past 20 years. (Provided)

Formerly a member of the Algerian hard rock group Atakor, Massi has forged an enviable reputation over the past twenty years. Recognized for the distinctive strength of her voice and the poetry of her lyrics, she released her first solo album, “Raoui”, in 2001 and has since seduced audiences around the world.

In “Sequana”, she sings about the causes that are most dear to her heart, be it love and exile or the importance of human relationships. In this sense, the album is a continuation of what has always been Massi’s calling card – an unwavering determination to stand up for what she values ​​most.

“I’m talking about human relationships, the importance of empathy, the importance of love,” Massi says, apologizing for his broken English. “I understand that we are fragile, but if we lose our humanity, we are lost.”

The album’s first single, “Drawing Me Un Country”, was released in June and, while perhaps rooted in the loss of one’s own homeland, is inspired by the more recent displacements of people from Syria and Afghanistan. . But it is nature that takes center stage in the album. In the press kit that accompanies his release, Massi states that “what we must always maintain, whatever life throws at us, is our connection with nature, first for the beauty it offers, but also for his mastery in the art of resilience”.

The album cover also features Massi with two delicately placed daisies on her eyelids, representing what she says is a symbol of resistance. “This land is beautiful and I want to stand with those who try to protect it and fight for it,” she said simply.

The musical palette that accompanies these themes is wide. Massi is known for her generous embrace of musical styles, incorporating rock and chaabi into an otherwise acoustic sound. On “Sequana,” she branched out, adding calypso, chanson, and bossa nova to the musical traditions of her native North Africa. In doing so, she created an often mesmerizing mix of genres, thanks in large part to English producer Justin Adams. Having worked with Rachid Taha, Juldeh Camara, Tinariwen and Robert Plant, Adams is no stranger to the world of successful global collaborations.

The album’s opener, “Drawing Me Un Country”, features Kabyle-style acoustic guitar, a violin quartet and Syrian flautist Naïssam Jalal. Elsewhere, the mandola (an Algerian steel-stringed instrument related to the mandolin) helps turn “Dib El Raba” into a cheerful mid-tempo groove. Other collaborators in what is a brand new musical line-up for Massi include English singer Piers Faccini and singer-songwriter Michel Françoise, who penned the lyrics to “A Single Star” and “L’espoir “. (Hope).

“You know, I grew up in Algeria and I was at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Middle East”, says Massi, who listened to the chaabi and the songs of the Kabyles (a Berber ethnic group). growing up. “We were really at the center of it all and it was really interesting for me as an artist because I heard all this music and traveled a lot and met a lot of people. So when Justin and I talked of my songs, lyrics and inspiration, he told me to be natural and follow my instincts, so it was simple, I can play traditional music, I can play rock music, I I have a classical base, so why would I limit myself? I don’t want to limit myself. I want to be free as I am in my life and I want to translate that into my music.

Folk music and guitar – two hallmarks of Massi’s sound – remain a central element of “Sequana”. They are the ones, she says, who provide the kind of intelligence needed to turn pain into song and are featured prominently on “Sequana” and “Dib El Raba.”

Souad Massi performs at the Radio 3 Awards For World Music Winners concert at Carling Academy Brixton on April 7, 2006 in London. (Getty Images)

“Folk music was my first love and I’m one of those people who needs a story, who needs to understand, who needs to live a song with its lyrics,” says Massi, an admirer of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. “The first folk songs were just a person with a guitar talking about their pain, life’s hardships, oppression, grief. The music was there to accompany what they wanted to say. And when the lyrics are rich and true, that’s where the music is most powerful.

Nowhere is this truer than with Chilean folk singer Victor Jara, to whom Massi dedicated the final song on the album. Inspired by the folk traditions of his native country and by singer-songwriters such as Violeta Parra, Jara wrote protest songs that advocated political reform and social justice. He was tortured and executed by Augusto Pinochet’s regime in 1973.

“I love this man who died for freedom and I have a lot of respect for him. When I found out about his life and the story of his death, I was very sad, but I wanted to turn that sadness into something real. I have a lot of respect for people who are generous, who don’t care about their lives, who are gentle, who think of others, who give their lives for us,” she says. “Because the Freedom is a gift to others, and people like Victor Jara give us that gift.