Revealed at the time of the Tunisian revolution of 2011, the young artist traces its path by merging various sound universes, electro rhythms and Arab influences. She is preparing a third album and will be performing at Petit Bain in Paris on Saturday night.
By Marie Verdier
Without label. Free! In how many languages and on what tones does the singer Emel Mathlouthi have to proclaim it so that we do not stick to her an ethnic identity on the front, so that we do not lock her in her Tunisian Muslim woman's origins?
No, Emel Mathlouthi neither denies nor denies his origins and culture. She is proud to have been the face of the Tunisian revolution of 2011. Proud to have sung in Arabic Kelmti horra ("My word is free") at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in December 2015 to the Quartet of the national dialogue that had worked to put the country back on the rails of democracy as it sank into a serious political and security crisis. "Tunisia deserved this prize! And, she says, this invitation from the Nobel Committee was one of those moments when one says to oneself "I was right to do what I do", it was 360 ° of emotion . But at age 36, Emel Mathlouthi claims first and foremost to be a member of the global arts community, as part of this universality that transcends membership.
to salute musical and artistic audacity without worrying about the origins
Like her lyrical and experimental music that explodes the shackles, she feeds on rock, metal, trip-hop and tradition. When, in March 2017, the Metropolitan Museum in New York asked for a concert with other foreign artists in the wake of the movement "The March of Women" - born for the rights of women and minorities and against the migration policy of Donald Trump - she discovers with horror that the concert was titled "Muslim women's voices" (voices of Muslim women). "I had to fight for the show to be called" Women's Voices ".
"Are American or European white singers so defined? she asks. No, we will salute their musical and artistic daring without worrying about their origins! " She continues: " I would like, in the same way that we give consideration for my voice, which does not concern me, just because I come from Tunisia, from the perspective of Orientalism, of the exotic or committed activist (even if she claims his fights, Ed).
"Do not be afraid to dare, to challenge and disrupt the gains even if it implies solitude and rejection ... It is the free reflection that brings audacity and exploration without which we would have died of boredom. / Emel Mathlouthi
I disappoint these expectations. I do not want to be forced to represent a community that I am supposed to belong to. I want to keep my independence, to speak to all, to renew myself in my songs to provide new emotions. On stage, the emotions do not belong to anyone. It's my way of feeling alive. "
The free electron path is perilous on both the artistic and the identity fronts. "It's confusing for the music industry that condemns you to marginality. " And in Tunisia there are questions about his insistence on cutting the cord. "It's often experienced as an abandonment, if not a betrayal. Yet I sing in Tunisian and I open doors often being the first to sing in Tunisian in many countries. "
Tunis, Paris, New York ... and why not Berlin
Tunisia, Emel Mathlouthi left at 25, but she returns often. "If I could have done it ten years ago, I would have done it. I was waiting so impatiently to broaden my horizons. I would have saved time. Time flies. " She lived in Paris, then moved to New York with her husband and baby daughter. And now think of Berlin, "a city of openness, tolerance, greenery, a city where one can still be a poet while so many capitals are swept away by capitalism and consumerism. "
As a child in Tunis, she only had an ear for music. "I have always wanted to explore a more exhilarating reality. The arts make it possible to escape the world, like flying in the air. " With its big brother and little sister - that, too, make their living in the United States - she woke up Sunday morning to the sound of Vivaldi. Since then, his love for classical music has never faltered.
But when, as a teenager, she hears rock, metal and grunge for the first time, she feels like a fish in the water . With her friends, they exchange MP3s they download when a big brother has a computer. "Me, I touched my first computer at 23 years old. " She then discovered Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and many other artists of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Never, however, does she envisage studying music. "I was too scared to make it a learning subject, not to love. " She fumbles, starts an architectural curriculum and a school prep engineers eventually branch off to the graphics. In those years, she created her metal band "Idiome". "The girls' voices are usually used for ornamentation, for self-talk, I wanted my voice to be in the center. I wanted to compose, I was thirsty to write as a therapy. "
Rebellion in all discretion
The small group begins to perform on underground scenes without the knowledge of his parents, especially his mother. "It was not possible, it was not good for a girl to be a singer. " But the rebellious spirit that his father had kept buried for his communist student youth in Paris in the veins of Emel, who cultivates the rebellion in discreetly. "I never went to confrontation with my parents. " It nodding but continues its path. Make a small name via social networks.
A certain January 14, 2011, when Tunisia converges on Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis to end the era of President Ben Ali, his aficionados ask him to sing Kelmti horra , written by his friend the poet Amin El Ghozzi. The whole planet discovers it then.
But Emel sang "for a revolution before the revolution" . It is besides place of the Bastille in Paris, during the African ball organized by Radio France international in 2007, that she sang for the first time Kelmti horra . She will then sing it systematically at the end of each concert. "Africa is not just about sun and rhythm, it's also painful things. "
Before, she had already composed That's enough , and sang Khayef ("I'm scared"). "This song speaks of Tunisians immured in silence, of the impossibility of speaking and dreaming. " Song she takes in his second album, Ensen (" Human ") released early 2017.
The first album, Kelmti horra , released in 2012, was recorded during the Tunisian revolution. "I was eager to throw it in the face of Tunisia, for all those who fight, for all those who languish in prisons. "
"There is fighting everywhere"
In the frenzy of the first months, when the democratic Tunisia is to build, the Tunisian youth pulls Emel Mathlouthi, who returns each month to sing. Before, a year later, the country begins to disillusion.
Festivals no longer call on her. It is she who files a file to participate in the Festival of Carthage last August. It is programmed, then deprogrammed and reprogrammed. Orchestra, conductor, arranger, etc., are pushed to the start. "The festival team wanted to sabotage the concert, required to work with its very expensive providers. It was such a battle for more than six months, that I want to make a documentary, "The Impossible Concert". That's Tunisia too. This concert was almost harder to organize than the first women's concert in Tehran. " In 2013, Emel Mathlouthi was the adventure of the concert that broke the censorship in Iran where, since the Islamic revolution of 1979, women are no longer allowed to sing alone, without the presence of men who cover their lives. voice.
"There is fighting everywhere, serious and depressing situations, but the wheel is moving forward. Women will eventually achieve equality in Iran, in Tunisia as elsewhere, " Emel is convinced. Moreover, she also ensures: "The United States elected Donald Trump, but there is also this movement of women" #MeToo "(me too) against rape and sexual harassment, it is an earthquake extraordinary! "
1 1 January 1982. Born in Tunis, the second child of
January 14, 2011. Chante Kelmti horra ("My word is free") on the avenue Bourguiba in Tunis, in the middle of the crowd that scares President Ben Ali.
January 2012. Release of his first album Kelmti horra .
September 19, 2013. Participates in the first women's concert in Iran, a country where women are banned from singing alone. The concert gives rise to the documentary No land's song .
March 2014. Wedding in New York where she lives. Union of which she has a little girl.
December 11, 2015. Concert in Oslo for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Quartet of the Tunisian National Dialogue which worked for the democratization of the country.
February 2017. Release of his second album, Ensen .
February 10, 2018. Concert in Paris, at the Petit Bain.
2018. Tour in Europe and preparation of a third album.
The American poet John Ashbery
John Ashbery / Bebeto Matthews / AP
We should all read poetry every day because it shakes something very crucial in all of us. Imagine how different the world would be then! The poetry of John Ashbery (died September 2017, Ed), it reads and reads it five times. And each time his reading will be different without being sure of being in the understanding.
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The composer Arvo PärtThe music of the Estonian composer (minimalist contemporary music and religious inspiration, Ed) is part of the great tragedy. It can make the soul cry and tie the stomach. I like that we put on alert all my feelings.