Ferhat Mehenni

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Photo taken at the gathering of 4 September 2011 on the Plaza of Human Rights in Paris

Ferhat Mehenni also known as Ferhat Imazighen Imula (March 5, 1951) was born in Illoula Oumalou, Tizi Ouzou Province and is a Kabyle singer and political activist, the founder and first President of the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie.[1] Since June 1, 2010, he is the President of the Provisional Government of Kabylia, a government the movement set up in exile in France.[1] Laureate Gusi Peace Prize of the prestigious international organization since July 23, 2013. Having graduated from the University of Algiers with a degree in political science, Ferhat made his first steps into the world of music in 1973[2] by winning the Algiers Modern Music Festival's first prize. It was soon after this success that he began his career as a protest singer and political activist. He was notably hostile towards the Algerian government and Islamists; this led to him being arrested 13 times, imprisoned for three years, and tortured by government forces.[3] After the Black Spring massacre in Kabylie triggered by the Algerian gendarmes' killing of a young Kablye man, Masinissa Guermah in detention, he established the MAK, Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie, a political movement calling for self-government in Kabylia. The assassination of his eldest son (Améziane Mehenni) in 2001 is regarded by some as a punishment to his fight for autonomy. Though others suspect it was a case of mistaken identity and that Ferhat was the real target.[2]

His music is highly political and unique. He has produced several albums but most of them are somewhat difficult to come by in Europe:

Tuγac n ddkir – Songs of steel, love and liberty (1994)
Tuγac n tmes d waman – Songs of Fire and Water (1996 and 2001)
I Tmurt n Leqvayel – Hymn to Kabylia (2002)
Adekker d usirem – Requiem and Hope (2004)

For those familiar with UK protest songs it is important not to regard Ferhat simply as a Bob Dylan type of protest singer. In western society protest songs have accompanied political change[2] but Ferhat, like Lounis Ait Menguellet or Matoub Lounes, comes from an oral tradition where the song acts like the newspaper or political speeches in European societies. It is a very powerful as a means of communication. It may not be easy for western audiences to understand the power of the song in an oral tradition even when a written tradition exists.

Ferhat is primarily a political activist who, living in a society with strong oral traditions, uses music to convey those ideas. It is quite difficult to separate the politician from the singer.

Ferhat Mehenni is the author of Algérie : La Question Kabyle, published in 2004 in which he explains his ideas about Kabyle nationalism.

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