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105 f Voice Of Spring


Tunisian adventurer Emel Mathlouthi is back in the UK soon for the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival. Elisavet Sotiriadou calls her in Harlem.


E


mel Mathlouthi now considers New York home since it’s where she started her family, after being born in Tunisia and beginning her music career in Paris. In the same way that she is no stranger to challenging herself and immersing herself in other cultures, so her music dares to draw inspiration from both modern and traditional Tunisian music and contemporary sounds from the West. She does not shy away from fight- ing against routine and habits. When “you change your home every now and then you feel less in control; it helps you connect with your vulnerability again for the creative process.”


Since 2012, she has played in the UK


regularly, including at Womad, where Mathlouthi says that “it’s such a huge win- dow for artists and I was so excited to be there, we really had a fantastic response from the audience, and we were really enchanted by their warmth and the ener- gy.” This summer she’s playing at the Liver- pool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF), in July. Mathlouthi will be one of three interna- tionally renowned artists at the festival’s 20th anniversary (the other two are 47SOUL, a Palestinian/Jordanian electronic dabke and hip-hop group and TootArd, a band from the occupied Golan Heights.)


It’s more than obvious that music is her calling and passion; you can easily hear it in the rawness of her melodic voice and how inspired she is when she talks about music, poetry and art. She was destined to be in that world. “I think it’s something that we don’t really decide, it comes along with the package that we are born with. I didn’t feel it was a choice, it was in me.” It sounds as if music was forced upon her by nature, but while she thinks we are able to change “many things in ourselves and people’s lives and minds,” she admits that “it is extremely interesting to be an artist, but at the same time it is extremely hard and some sides of it are selfish,” all the while confessing how lucky she is, too, to able to feel alive in her job as a musician.


While the mainstream media often points to her as the voice of the Arab Spring, she is more than a revolutionary. Her first album, Kelmti Horra (My Word Is


Free), gave her the role of the protest singer, one that she was not burdened to carry. It has meant that she’s needed to show that there is more purpose in her music and artistry. Her second album Ensen (Human) defies genres, mixing electronica and Tunisian textures into her own cine- matic universe.


“I don’t think that there has to be a break between one phase and another, I don’t think they’re incompatible – like being fully an artist and a sonic explorer and music producer but at the same time having a meaning to what we do, that we


do have a message, a consciousness. That’s how it should be working. But unfortu- nately there’s been a separation between people who are thinkers and dissidents and activists and other people. This is wrong: we all need to be thinking of each other and of the issues that are ours. All the political things we see, everything is connected – so unfortunately, when we do art, there is this concept that art is not sup- posed to necessarily be a conscious thing. We tend to think that art should be some- thing to divert the attention and to enjoy ourselves, but art can be that and also


Photo: (Julien Bourgeois


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