How female collective Lemma are keeping Algeria’s music traditions alive

Lemma’s performance in Abu Dhabi is the gig they were born to play.

According to the group’s founder and singer Souad Asla, a concert by the Algerian women’s collective at New York University Abu Dhabi on Friday, as part of the venue’s Balzakh festival, explains why the group was first formed.

“Lemma is Algerian and can be translated to mean gathering or harvesting,” says Asla. The National. “We haven’t played concerts in the Arab world for a long time, so it’s important for us to come to Abu Dhabi.

“We want to showcase the heritage of Algeria and North Africa, which is essentially a shared heritage in the Arab world.”

Born in the western Algerian city of Bechar, Asla moved to Paris at the age of 20 to study drama and begin a solo music career.

her 2008 debut album Jawal The tempo and melody of Algerian folk songs combined with the mystical sounds of North African Gnawa music made it a hit in the world music world.

In between touring and solo projects, Asla would often return to the small Algerian town of Taghit to rejuvenate her creativity.

She recalls attending weekly all-woman gatherings where they sang and danced to traditional folk songs.

“What I loved about these nights was that it was a place where women could fully express themselves and speak freely,” says Asla. “But when I came back, those groups were smaller. He told me that he was

The highly private nature of these events also contributed to their decline, and public knowledge of their cultural value was limited.

Asla says he created Lemma in 2015 to address that gap, with a collective of 12 people performing these intimate songs in public.

Putting the band together was a big job, she says, and had to convince the members and possibly their families.

Through a series of rehearsals at Taghit, Lemma honed the genres they present, including the Sufi-inspired alfalda, the mystical trance sounds of Hadra, the Algerian musical genre Gnawa.

“These are all oral and endangered forms of music, so each show shows how important they are,” says Asla. “And now, I think bringing this to the Arab world makes it even more poignant.”

Concerts, especially those held in Algeria, also spurred their transcendental streak.

“People were surprised to see us play music that many people associate with male artists,” says Asla. “The crowd loved the fact that we broke some of these boundaries and we had a great reception.”

That momentum propelled Lemma’s self-titled debut album to commercial success in Algeria in 2019. Sung primarily in Berber and Arabic, the track features percolating her percussion and call-and-response style vocals.

Outstanding songs include Marchok Nbi When Zaffani, Which Convey the energy and joy the Asuras experienced at the closed gatherings in Taggit.

Songs include different sounds, cultures and traditions, but Asura says they are all rooted in a sense of community.

This is why Lemma’s concerts from Algeria to Finland are never lost in translation.

“The songs come from a rich history of being open and welcoming,” she says. “I look forward to coming to Abu Dhabi and sharing that message and joy with you all.”

The Barzakh Festival will take place on February 3rd and 4th at the East Plaza in front of the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi. Ticket prices are Dh 150 for one night and Dh 250 for two nights. For more information,

Updated: Feb 1, 2023, 2:03 PM

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