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What I learned

Souad Asla

By Astrid Krivian - Published on November 2022

For the Algerian singer, music is an art of emancipation and freedom. With her 100% female group Lemma, she makes the ancestral songs of the desert region of Saoura vibrate and celebrates a threatened heritage.

I grew up in Béchar, at the gates of the desert. I had a happy childhood. I dreamed of dance, theater, cinema. Since there was no conservatory, I learned to create my shows with my nieces and cousins. I was the boss! I felt there was a power, a world to discover. I was very curious about other countries, different musical styles, from here and elsewhere.

I also wanted to be a war photographer. My father, a politician, used to talk to me about world news. I wanted to travel, to cover conflicts. But my father thought it was not a job for me. This is where something clicked in me: why am I being refused? From adolescence, the prohibitions began to fall, it bothered me a lot. I first put water in my wine. I had no choice, I was very young. I followed scientific studies according to the wish of my father. Then I fell in love with a Frenchman. We saw each other in secret. He asked for my hand, but my parents refused. My father explained to me: it was not a personal decision that belonged to him, he needed the agreement of the brothers, the uncles, all this weight of society.

At 20, I left everything. Although I wanted to build in my country, my dreams were bigger than my daily life. It was a heartbreaking choice, but I valued my freedom. My parents did not agree, so I left without warning. Finding my place in France, getting used to the distance, it was difficult at first. I did the grape harvest, I liked this responsibility, working to earn money. And I went to theater school. I was very good at improvisation. But the world of cinema disappointed me. I wanted to play all the roles, but I was only offered caricatural characters.

The music happened by chance. The great musician Hasna El Bacharia was recruiting singers and offered me to become a chorister. I refused at first, I did not trust my voice. But when she presented me with the roadmap of the tour, I thought to myself: what a way to travel! I understood that our traditional music was a real treasure. I accompanied him for seventeen years, while initiating my projects on the side.

For a long time, I refused to play in Algeria, where I hid behind a percussion so as not to be filmed. It was very hard to free myself. I ended up reconciling with my family. They understood my approach. And setting up the Lemma group, with women from the Saoura, of all generations, was a liberation [show presented in particular at the Les Suds festival, in Arles, editor’s note]. Free, they confront society, they play on stage. They freed me from my fears, gave me strength. Today, I love playing in my country.

Returning years later to my native region, I understood the grandeur of this desert, its spirituality. And why we are rather calm, taciturn. Before, it irritated me, I found people slow, for me, it was necessary to speak, to live! To recharge my batteries, I go to my desert. I thank the Universe for being born there. I learned the importance of family, of roots. When we are well rooted, we can rise afterwards.