|Guerilla of pop: Matoub Lounès and the struggle for Berber identity in Algeria
by Andy Morgan
Read about the legendary Berber singer Matoub Lounès who was assasinated on 25 June 1998.
These 21 pages in A4-format is a chapter in the book ‘Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today’ (Freemuse/Zed Books, May 2004). Reproduced with kind permission from the author and Zed Books.
Read chapter (PDF)
Excerpt from the introduction of ‘Guerrilla of pop: Matoub Lounès and thestruggle for Berber identity in Algeria’
By Andy Morgan
‘Silence is death and yet if you speak you die. If you keep quiet you die. So then speak and die.’
‘I want to speak and I don’t want to die.’
A grave between an olive and a cherry tree
Death finally caught up with him on the lonely bend of a mountain road. The bullet-strafed car was still smoking and the pools of blood on the asphalt were still warm when the news broke. Telephones lines crackled and the Internet came alive. ‘They’ve killed him.’ ‘He was with his wife and two sistersin- law.’ ‘They were hit too.’ ‘It happened just after 1 p.m.’ ‘On the Tizi Ouzou road.’ ‘It was a false roadblock.’ ‘It was an ambush.’ ‘It was the GIA.’ ‘It was Chenoui’s men.’ ‘It was the government.’ ‘He’s dead.’ ‘He’s gone.’ ‘Matoub has gone.’ Some even whispered, ‘It had to happen.’
Within hours angry mourners in their thousands had gathered around the Mohammed Nedir hospital in Tizi Ouzou, where Matoub Lounès’s bloodied remains were taken after the attack. Their shouts boomed like mixed-shot salvoes of anger, desperation and grief. ‘Government … Assassin!’ ‘Zéroual … Assassin!’ ‘Islamists … Assassins!’ ‘The generals … Assassins!’ Over the next few days youths took to the streets of Tizi Ouzou, Akbou, Sidi Aïch, Bejaia, Aïn el Hammam and Tizi Guénif and unleashed their rage on government buildings, party offices, banks and shops. The police and security forces retaliated nervously with water cannon, tear gas and bullets. Three protesters were killed. Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia appealed feebly for calm. Kabylia was burning.
In Paris, thousands gathered in Place de la République, in front of an immense black-and-white portrait of Matoub. Actors, politicians, community leaders, writers and musicians took to the stage to say a few words or sing a song. The great Berber singer Idir denounced the new Arabization law which was due to be passed on 5 July, making Arabic the compulsory language of almost every official or semi-official transaction in Algeria. The crowd stood smouldering under the fluttering yellow, blue and green flags of Kabylia, arms raised to the skies, chanting his songs. ‘Matoub was the Bard of Kabylia. They wanted to shut him up so they killed him,’ said one mourner. ‘He sang for freedom, our freedom, Berber freedom,’ said another. ‘He was our Che Guevara,’ said a third.
The Berber Cultural Movement (MCB) called for a general strike and the response was overwhelming. Tizi Ouzou, the capital of Kabylia, was enveloped in a sepulchral silence on Sunday, 28 June 1998, three days after Matoub’s murder. Boarded-up shops and businesses looked like mausoleums lining the paths of a huge cemetery. Many of the city’s inhabitants had left before dawn and made their way up the mountain to Taourirt Moussa, the village where Matoub was born. They stuffed themselves in cars or braved the 25 kilometres on foot. The roads were hopelessly jammed. This, for once, was a real roadblock.
In every hollow, on every ridge, down every street or path and on every rooftop around the Matoub villa, as far as the eye could see, a sea of mourners stood simmering under a hot and ripening sun. The presence of women, dressed defiantly in their colourful traditional dress or Western threads, all of them unveiled, surprised many. Traditionally, funerals in Algeria are all-male affairs.
The heat was intense, the atmosphere even more so, and many fainted. Militants from the various Berber political groups and local village defence associations policed the gathering. Their work was light because no one was in the mood for troublemaking. Placards bearing Matoub’s intense and anxious features were held aloft. Banners broke the silence and the sobs. ‘Remember and Revenge!’ ‘No Peace without Tamazight.’ ‘Arabo-Islamism, the shortest way to HELL.’ Eventually Matoub’s body was brought out, wrapped only in an Algerian flag, and laid tenderly in a grave just in front of his family home, between an olive and a cherry tree, facing the majestic Djurdjura Mountains which he had loved with such a passion. His mother Aldjia fired two shots in the air and his sister Malika made a short speech which ended, ‘The face of Lounès will be missed but his songs will dwell for ever in our hearts. Today is a day of great joy. We are celebrating the birth of Matoub Lounès.’
Read more in the pdf-file above…
Matoub Lounès was filmed by BBC shortly before he was assassinated in 1998