Souad Massi: Oumniya

February 25, 2020

Truth to Power

Listening Post 241. “Government,” observed Ibn Khaldoun, “is an institution that prevents injustices, except those it commits itself.” For more than a year, peaceful demonstrators in Algeria have been challenging an entrenched, corrupt regime bent on fulfilling the definition articulated by the fourteenth-century Muslim sage. One of the most eloquent voices in support of the protests is that of Souad Massi, the Algiers-born, Paris-based artist who has spent much of her career singing truth to power. Oumniya (My Wish), her sixth album, is a poetic treatise, delivered in Arabic and French, on betrayal, freedom, gender equality and the competing gravitational forces of home and homeland. Like activist singers of other lands, Massi’s songs are often nuanced—bitter lyrics served with soothing music, allowing them to travel farther, penetrate deeper. Her sound palette is eclectic, folk and chaâbi with dashes of reggae, country and fado, and the voice she raises in defense her compatriots, based on her own experience as well, is soft and warm. In the title track (video 1) she denounces the oligarchy’s treachery—“I gave you my hand… you stabbed me”—while in Fi Bali (Full Awareness) she targets the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who bowed to the protests and resigned (video 2). One of the album’s two French tracks, Je Chante (I Sing) is a hymn of longing for dreams and rights denied (video 3). Enta Wena (You and I), an interlude of lost love, also seems a reminder that some misfortunes have no villain (video 4). Massi’s duet with her daughter—Je Veux Apprendre (I Want to Learn, video 5)—is a call for women’s emancipation; it also invokes the teaching of the Tunisian-born Ibn Khaldoun, who once sought refuge in Algeria, just as Massi found safety in France. In books or in song, wisdom can be battered, but across borders and centuries it endures. (Naïve Records/Wrasse Records)

Oumniya / My Wish / أمنية
Souad Massi: Vocals, guitar
Mehdi Dalil: Mandole, guitar
Adriano Dos Santos Tenorio: Percussion
Mokrane Adlani: Violin
Rabah Khalfa: Derbouka
Pascal Danahe: Guitar

Related Post. Souad Massi: El Mutakallimûn, Listening Post 62, August 29, 2016


Oumniya / My Wish / Mon Souhait / أمنية
Lyrics & Music: Souad Massi

(From the Arabic lyrics)
I gave you my hand … you stabbed me/
I, who just came back from a war
I offered my cheek … and you slapped me/You who live without frustration
I offered you honey … you doused me with bitterness/You aiming the hose … I the drenched
Pure water is henceforth polluted/It’s my fault … I deserve such treatment
It seems you are like the moon/A luminous face and a well-hidden secret
You’re actually like a dead man in a grave/You died in my heart and your heart died
In the sky, the moon is well lit/But flowers and thorns cannot be compared
My roots are well known/But from a distance, you look human

I’ve journeyed through many countries/I have run so much and traveled so far
People sleep, but I was exhausted/I fell, I picked myself up, I lived and observed
Small and weak, but steeped in pride/Let the light grow in the heart
Leave fortune to the Lord/Lord, put your hand on my heart
Take me out of this darkness and this wandering
The oppressed are serene with you/Their rights are upheld in the face of injustice
I cried so much … my heart is cold/It overflows with pain
I hate myself … I hate flowers/And every smile that appears on every face


Fi Bali / Full Awareness / Pleine Conscience / في بالي
Lyrics & Music: Souad Massi

(From the Arabic lyrics)
So many questions that remain unanswered/
So many loved ones who have changed and who have disappeared
You understood the story from the start/You dimmed the light and blocked all exits
The ship you have long commanded is now lost/I see well the death that lurks around you
You let them pull the strings/Now you face the crashing waves
The first one is bereft of time/The second is satisfied and content
The last one hides in the wings/It only springs up to interfere
You, who perjured so much you lost track of your lies/Your rhetoric is absolutely useless

Yet a house without pillars or doors/Is carried away by a light wind
On this deserted island, no path is marked/The escape boat has already sailed
You are far from having the required wisdom/Nevertheless, the voices of the sirens depend on you
We entrust our case to you, if you are to judge/But you must be impartial
How to resist bribery?/Does the fruit of the earth ease temptation
Or maybe a lamb will settle the situation!/From now on, after winter comes fall
We fly on this earth and the sky becomes a pedestrian street
Do you understand me, are you lucid?
What’s the use? All judgment is absurd.


Enta Wena / You and I / Toi et Moi / أنت وأنا
Lyrics & Music: Souad Massi

(From the Arabic lyrics)
I erased the written words/I didn’t leave a single letter written down
Like a downpour that breaks out and sweeps clean/The roads and rooftops
I erase and my heart throbs/I feel empty and time stands still
I closed the book I had started to read/Like you when you closed your hands
I couldn’t bear the story/Because you are in my thoughts
I reached its end without realizing it/This story is difficult for me … period
On my cheek, he sketched jasmine/I asked him to draw this garden
Rake me like the leaves/That autumn has vowed to take
Make strings from my hair/When you reach the mountains

Let me see the color of the sky/And let the clouds lament
We are a paradise in a desert/A free horse that escapes
We are like a wave and a wing/What space will suffice for us!
We are such shy guests, heartache awaits us
At dusk, they bring out the shackles/And our hands are bound up
You and I/Are like the sun and the moon
The first burns, the second testifies, helpless against torture
You and I/Are like night and day
As one appears, the other vanishes


Je Chante / I Sing
Lyrics: Magyd Cherfi/ Music: Souad Massi

(From the French lyrics)
I sing for my land, which has never seen the light of day
And for my children who will never see it/or learn of it in a schoolbook
I sing the most beautiful song, called  … Melancholy

I sing for all the gold/that doesn’t match the weight
of all the wealth/that breathes under my roof
because we are rich/only from giving life
I sing the most beautiful song, called … Melancholy

I sing when the night/carries tunes coming back
to tell us that tomorrow/will not keep its promises
You can die twice/when you have two children.
I sing the most beautiful song, called … Melancholy

I sing for women/who have no crowns
and who fight the demand/that they cover their heads.


and the men would say/that life is a feast



Je Veux Apprendre / I Want to Learn
Lyrics & Music: Souad Massi

(From the Arabic lyrics)
I want to learn:
On the day I was born, my mother cried so much …
She has four daughters now/She who dreamed of a boy
And imagined the youyous from the women around her
Afraid my father would divorce her or remarry/As he had warned
But time passes/Two years later, my father fell ill and died
My mother supported us and she endured/At every turn, we poke fun at her widowhood
When she goes out, she is watched by those around her
I was young, but I understood everything/Being a girl was cursed
If only I had died/The day I was born …

I want to read and learn/Open a book, dream and paint
I want to live/I want to lift my head and say “no, no”
And defend the good like Mandela
They wanted to bury me alive/They hid me as if I was an embarrassment
They robbed me of my destiny/They condemned me like a kind of assassin …

I discreetly looked at the little children/Who went to school happy
They didn’t have much time left/My time has long since run out
Small, deprived of going out and imprisoned/I cooked and imitated my elders
They were preparing me to offer my hand/But my place was with the kids
I didn’t feel human/I was a commodity that one drags
Everyone considered my price/However, I know my value
Sometimes I dreamed of a strong and kind man/I called him “daddy”
He hid me under his wings/Protecting me from the eyes of jackals.
But, I don’t have a dad!/I was called a liar
But, I have to lie to console my heart …/Show me the way, give me the solution,
Teach me to fish and don’t give me the fish/Teach me to realize hope,
Tell me about this universe/About Averroès and Ibn Khaldoun
Teach me to be, the way I want to be



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