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something that points out the wrong things that are happening. I don’t want to say that it’s over, I’m only going to talk about abstract things: I’m all of that at once and obviously my first album was centred around the revolution and free- dom of expression.”


At that moment in her life she was transitioning from being a young student in Tunisia to being an immigrant in Paris. Her soul is still in the art, and even though she talks about the revolution in other ways, she still expresses the injus- tice through her music. “What’s really unfair is that for an artist like me, not born in Europe or America, we tend to not have the right to belong to the same sphere as all other artists. We have to be defined by the media in a political or eth- nic context, and when we blur those lines it becomes confusing,” she laughs. She adds that now “I want to exist in the biggest horizon,” happy to be evolving in Europe and the USA so that she can share her music in wider fields. It’s harder work: artists who are outside the western world don’t seem to have the same right to define themselves, they don’t get the same opportunities. “I’m struggling to just show people that I’m just me. I would like people to pay attention to the music I’m doing and not to the package that they want it to be delivered in.”


Where would she like to be perform- ing, if in an ideal world she did not have all these limitations put upon her? “I would like to be where my music belongs. I don’t want to be put in a jazz or classical


or punk music festival, but I want to be in as many festivals that this music can speak to. I do perform in front of audi- ences who don’t speak Arabic and they react to the sounds, rhythms and emo- tions.” She’s not bitter, just stating the facts of her reality. Her story.


Poetry by T S Elliot, Rainer Maria Rilke,


John Ashbery, Paul Éluard and even the rock singer Jeff Buckley inspire her. For Mathlouthi, the words of a song have their own melody. When she listens to music of other languages, she lets herself be taken where the song takes her. When you listen to Kelmti Horra, it feels just like that. An international hymn, empowering you to move mountains.


H


er talent and the quality of her music is evident in Math- louthi’s live performance at the Nobel Peace Prize Con- cert in Oslo 2015 (watch it at


youtu.be/wJ79iEfus8E ). She touches the whole audience, singing in a remarkable black dress with golden embroidery, with the lyrics of Kelmti Horra displayed digi- tally, in English, against the walls behind her. The auditorium is captured. Not an Arabic speaker myself, the song reveals to me a love story with its pain and longing. “It is a love song, it is a love of freedom song,” she explains.


The creative process stretches much further than the music. As an artist as you grow. “It comes naturally over the years… you start developing a vision and that vision is paved with music but also with


visuals. The feelings we have inside can be transcribed through the main form of art that we choose but also it can be accompa- nied by the package. It is interesting to combine many ways of art.”


So Mathlouthi also considers her stage wear: one of her friends and collaborators was her compatriot Azzedine Alaïa, who sadly died in late 2017 while curating his upcoming exhibition at London’s Design Museum, displaying over 60 of his iconic garments. He always supported Math- louthi’s vision. Alaïa’s exhibition is current- ly on display until early October 2018 and examines the work of one of the truly iconic fashion couturiers.


Her dream project is to collaborate with Patti Smith. “I love who she is, she’s so authentic, so true, so touching… she’s a big inspiration.” They’ve got in common the Nobel Prize performances – Math- louthi’s from 2015 and Patti Smith’s from Stockholm in 2016 to celebrate Bob Dylan as Nobel Prize winner for literature.


Now based in Harlem, Mathlouthi tells me about the new album she’s working on. It will not be traditionally recorded: this time she is “reacting with sounds that she’s making herself” but at the same time she’s experimenting electronically. The only real instruments will be the strings, otherwise it is just the keyboard, with beats and rhythms constructed from sounds from nature, while most of the lyrics will be in English.


emelmathlouthi.com arabartsfestival.com


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