Musical voice of “Arab Spring” playing Bryn Mawr College

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Singer/songwriter Emel Mathlouthi will be in concert at 8 p.m. March 27 at the McPherson Auditorium in Bryn Mawr College’s Goodhart Hall.
Mathlouthi’s music combines rock, trip-hop and electronica, with elements from traditional Arabic and north African music. Her frequently political lyrics have become inspiration for revolutionaries in her native Tunisia. “Emel’s voice was known as the voice of the Arab Spring,” said Performing Arts Series Coordinator Lisa Kraus in a press release. “Her songs have resonated with idealist revolutionaries and inspired action.” The singer, who now lives in France, and sings in Arabic, French and English, answered a couple questions by email.
For this concert at Bryn Mawr College, will it be acoustic guitar-based or will it have electronic beats?
A mix, but mostly with electronic beats. My music draws on many inspirations, but right now I am leaning towards more and more electronic presentations of the North African rhythms that are at the basis of my sound.
What’s happening in Tunisia right now?
In Tunisia right now we are experimenting with a new path, a more inclusive and democratic approach to organizing the life of the country. It is really a great thing, but we need to stay engaged to make sure things keep moving forward in the political sphere. But also we need to invest more so that young people have jobs and opportunities, (and) can create and fulfill their dreams. I see the creation of more and more associations for youth control of the society, new designers, social media leaders, musicians, etc.
Because some of your songs have become a rallying force for revolution, how often do you get death threats?

Tunisians are very peaceful people, but of course there are diverse currents in the society, and there are still many groups that prefer to see women in traditional roles, and prefer to see art that only reinforces the status quo or even tries to roll back social progress.

Tell me about what was happening at the time when you decided to move to France.
Well I was creating a lot, with friends and on my own. I was energetic to share a music that engaged people, that helped people imagine a better future for themselves, for the society. That was considered revolutionary, so I found it hard to access the airwaves and to play many shows. Everybody was afraid of the dictator so nobody liked to take risks.
How have American audiences responded to your music?
Very well! I have been impressed that people in the States, in Canada, in Europe have appreciated my sounds, the sounds of my music, culture, as well as my voice and my messages. All of this without even understanding the lyrics. That is very important nowadays.
What were your experiences like playing concerts in Egypt and Iraq?
Egypt has always been remarkable for the energy, the humor and passion of her people. My Egyptian audience is really wonderful and totally fusions with every single note or melody. They have a good knowledge of music and are eager and in love with modern sounds and experimentations. Iraq was a unique experience, somewhat sad but also inspiring. You know historically Baghdad has been one of the main centers of Arab culture and learning. It has had such a hard time now for decades, first under ruthless dictatorship, then torn apart by war, and now facing terrible strife. Going there we got a sense of how great it must have been in the past, but how remarkably brave the people are, risking their life everyday to go to work. I was impressed by all the technicians that work to make our show happen, but you know life is stronger than anything. It is very surprising to report how the streets were full of normal and usual activities.
What’s next for you musically?
That’s an easier question :). I am finishing my second album, which will open new artistic avenues and sounds that try to capture a sense of movement, or process, of love and of deep introspection and identity-questioning in a way that is true to me, and that I hope will give me new opportunities to connect with the good people who are drawn to, and give energy to, my music.
Tickets are $20, $18 for seniors, $10 for students, $5 for children under 12. See www.brynmawr.edu/arts/series.html or call (610) 526-5210. Bryn Mawr College is at 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr.

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