Souad Massi: O Houria (Liberty)

The latest album from Algerian singer Souad Massi has just been released on Wrasse Records. O Houria (Liberty) is her fourth studio album and the first since Mesk Elil (Honeysuckle) in 2005, though a live concert album Acoustic came out three years ago. New releases by Souad Massi have become major events as she has developed into one of the most interesting and exciting of all world music artists since her solo debut album Raoui in 2001. She has a distinctively plaintive voice and an eclectic taste in music which has meant her recordings have included large doses of flamenco, American rock, French pop, North African music, and jazz.

Souad Massi was brought up in Algeria and began singing in a flamenco band as a teenager. She subsequently became a member of Algeria’s first political rock band Atakor before moving to Paris to forge a successful solo career after being offered a recording contract there in 1999.

On the new album she sings mostly her own original songs in Arabic and French. As ever, the songs are varied and she is accompanied by a number of musicians but this time the album is strongly driven by the sound of the acoustic and electric guitars. Several of the songs deal with political topics, with freedom, and issues concerning women’s rights. Her song ‘A Letter to… Si H’Med’ takes to task the former mayor of her town in Algeria, while the opening track ‘Samira Meskina’ and the song ‘Nacera’ both address the mistreatment of women. The title track meanwhile was written by Michel Francoise who co-produced the album with Massi and with Francis Cabrel. The last song on the album is ‘Let Me Be In Peace’ in which she duets with Paul Weller.

O Houria is a fine album and it’s a joy to hear Massi’s voice again on a collection of new songs. Despite the topical nature of many of the lyrics it’s also a gentler album musically with rather less North African influences – the oud appears here only sparingly – and it veers more towards French pop and to the folk-rock sound of her debut album than to her others, as she herself admits. O Houria doesn’t contain any of the shock of her remarkable second album Deb (Heartbroken) which mixed up all kinds of influences into a wonderfully vital concoction. Nevertheless it’s a very welcome addition to Souad Massi’s catalogue. It will be interesting to see which musical direction she takes next.

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