Sissi Imaziten: Anzur

January 21, 2020

The Heart Is Where Home Is

Listening Post 236. If exile is painful it is also a powerful creative force. Artists from Victor Hugo to Bob Marley, from Gloria Estefan to James Joyce, have not only clung to lands that they or their parents left behind, they also put their heritage on everyone’s cultural map. So it is with Sissi Imaziten, who grew up in an immigrant family in France but whose crystalline voice in Kabyle—the principal Berber (Amazigh) language in Algeria—evokes a world in the Tell Atlas Mountains, a place of shepherds, beekeepers and olive trees, of couscous and henna, of protective angels and manipulative demons. Imaziten grew up on the ballads of family elders and the nostalgic songs her mother sang to soothe the ache of exile—and her mother’s death triggered the realization that continuity had fallen on a daughter’s shoulders. Inspired by the traditional songs, she composed new ones for Anzur (Pilgrimage), her debut album, opening a dialog between ancestral custom and modernity. The a cappella lament Zahr Iw (My Sad Fate) doesn’t reveal the specifics of misfortune, but Imaziten’s haunting tone seemingly glides over a sea of time (video 1). Most of her stories, to be sure, are joyous: In Vav W Ahriq (Master of the Place), her voice and the trilling ney flute of virtuoso Saïd Akhelfi accompany olive picking on an auspicious though rainy morning (video 2). Five of the album’s 10 tracks are wedding tales, with the emphasis on bridegrooms. Family members converge from afar on the home of an only son about to marry in Slir I W Slilu (The Call of the Youyous, video 3), and the accolades multiply in Isli (Praises to the Groom, video 4). With roughly six million speakers, Kabyle doesn’t command a French or English-sized audience, but in honoring her patrimony Imaziten also faithfully shepherds it across the cultural frontier. (Dmusic)

Sissi Imaziten: Vocals
Saïd Akhelfi: Flutes, bendir, arrangements


Zahr iw / My Sad Fate
Lyrics & Music: Sissi Imaziten

(from the Kabyle lyrics)
I am like an unhappy porter/A simple tunic and pants on my skin
I cannot escape the misfortunes that overwhelm me

To move forward, a boat needs to be well equipped/Mine capsizes, split in the middle
My luck goes wrong, it leans away/I tried to catch it, but it was forced to flee
I summoned it but in vain/It ran away!

When they celebrated the arrival of spring/Men, women, all those life has indulged
They are fulfilled: Happy in love, given fertile ground that yields a bountiful harvest every year
For me, fortune sleeps!/Take comfort my heart, have the strength to accept what you cannot change

I just received a letter/God sent it
His messenger brought it, threw it at me/It landed in my lap
Take comfort, my heart, what is written is written


Vav W Ahriq / Master of the Place
Lyrics & Music: Sissi Imaziten

It’s raining on the wild olive tree/O master of the place
Handsome and graceful like a young partridge

It’s raining on the brambles/O master of the place
To comfort you, a cup of coffee.

It’s raining on the mountains/O master of the place
The harvest is good/Let’s separate the grain from the chaff.

It’s raining on the olive tree/O master of the place
Glory to your mother the partridge who gave birth to you

To all those who pick olives/God help you
Lunch is being prepared; couscous with vegetables

O master of the place/O noble lord
You wear your best clothes, adorned with rich embroidery of pearls and gold threads
And around your neck, a necklace of spice beads with crossed patterns.

O master of the place/You are like this rare lamb so prized for its wool
Very sad is the assembly of the village in your absence.

O master of the place/May God give you the strength of the lion!
O son of the lioness!


Slir I W Slilu / The Call of the Youyous*
Lyrics & Music: Sissi Imaziten

At the announcement of his wedding, I crossed the mountains
Who owns the house where the party is in full swing?
It is my brother’s home; it is his wedding that is celebrated first

O bees, noble inhabitants of the hive/Be my messengers, go tell my mother to come
Today we celebrate the marriage of her eldest child!

Come, o you maternal uncles/Come, o you paternal uncles
Come, it is time to put henna to the groom, strong and courageous like a lion

I sing and will sing again, without ever getting tired/I dance and will dance again, without ever feeling weary
It is my brother’s wedding/He is the eldest, the first in line; he is the only son!

Allalla wllalla, you, rare bird that lives in the peaks/We searched a long time before finding you
Those who know you have told us: She is blessed with qualities; she is beautiful and well mannered

Asleep, during the siesta, I heard youyous/For whom is this beautiful house built of such fine materials?
This is the home of my brother, the free falcon!



Isli / Praises to the Groom
Lyrics & Music: Sissi Imaziten

Glory to the prophet, he brings us good fortune/May God bring us peace and bless this moment
Praise to the groom, like the shepherd’s star.

Glory to the prophet, it is through him that we begin these praises/Give thanks to our noble guide
Praise to the groom who is like a royal eagle

Who is this man on the doorstep?/He has a gold ring on his finger
He is educated, he has studied the sacred texts/Open the door for us; don’t keep us waiting any longer

Praise to you the groom; you are like a fertile seed with which we will plant an entire field
Whosoever hates you doesn’t know the precious friend he loses/Whosoever loves you can count on you in any ordeal

Praise to the groom, you are like a white flower/That the bees have found on the mountain
May God protect you and lend you a long life, you who have just been born into the world.

O God, I am sheltered from the sun; I am in the shade
There is the moon, it floods us with its clarity/It’s a great day, I’m happy for you, come get me

O God, I am sheltered from the sun; it’s dark/There is the moon with the stars as companions
It’s a great day, I’m happy for you, come home



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