Algeria / France: Souad Massi – exiled voice of Algeria

17 January 2006
Algerian singer and guitarist Souad Massi is a celebrity with a growing global following. Her music was banned in Algeria which she fled in 1999

33-year-old singer Souad Massi grew up in Algiers, part of a musical family, and learned to play guitar during the violent years of the civil war in Algeria.
“It seemed like an act of provocation for a woman to go out on the street carrying a guitar case. I had to prepare myself every time because I was timid and strangers would follow me, and the fundamentalists would insult me,” Souad Massi said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

Even so, and although her songs were banned from the radio and tv in Algeria, she built up a reputation.

Then she started receiving anonymous phone calls.

“It could have been a serious threat or just someone who was jealous of me, but I was frightened,” she said to The Sydney Morning Herald.
As a woman and a berber, Massi belongs to two oppressed groups, and in concert, she would take an overtly political stance, pausing for twenty minutes at a stretch to bring people from the audience to talk to them.

“Too bad if I got censored from television. At least I did it for the audience there,” she says in an interview with where she explains what happened in Algeria.
“To remain silent would mean that terrorists have won and that all the intellectuals they murdered, died for nothing.”

Initially, Souad Massi had sought refuge in her parents’ native town Kabylia, but in January 1999 she was invited over to Paris to perform at a “Festival of Algerian Women”. Souad’s emotion-charged performance at the Cabaret Sauvage brought the house down and she was encouraged to extend her week’s stay in the French capital.

Her new-found French friends also encouraged her to start sending demo tapes to local record labels. Impressed by her vibrant fusion sound and her powerful folk-style vocals, a French indie label signed her on the spot. Things moved quickly after that and within the next fortnight Souad had been whisked into two tiny Parisian studios and started working.
Rather than to have her voice of protest silenced, she decided to go into exile.

“This beautiful young protest singer has become an equal thorn in the side for Algeria’s bearded fundamentalists and corrupt armed forces,” Radio France International wrote about Souad Massi in 2001. Recording in France, she developed a unique Oriental folk fusion sound and continues to write hard-hitting lyrics denouncing the spiral of violence and corruption in Algeria.

Today, she is still based in France, and her songs are no longer banned in her homeland.

Souad Massi’s previous album, ‘Deb’ (Heartbroken), sold 200,000 copies. Her lastest album is called ‘Mesk Elil’ (Honeysuckle).

She received an ‘Award for World Music 2005’ at the yearly BBC world music awards show.


The Sydney Morning Herald – December 31, 2005:
‘Out of the shadows’

Radio France International – 4 May, 2001:
‘Souad Massi – The Algerian Passionaria’
‘Souad Massi’

Souad Massi’s official home page: 
Souad Massi

Related reading:
Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today

Edited by Marie Korpe (Executive Director, Freemuse), published by Zed Books, London.
(ISBN 1 84277 504 9 cased, ISBN 1 84277 505 7 limp)
Publication date: 18 May 2004

Governments have tried again and again to censor my music
and my ideas. In
Shoot the Singer! – Music Censorship Today,
Freemuse shows over and over again that governments all
over the world will go to great lengths to silence the people.
Freemuse speaks the truth side by side with me, standing up
for my right, as well as every musician’s right to speak.
Thomas Mapfumo (Zimbabwe)
  Click for full size image

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