Lounis Ait Menguellet

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Lounis in a Concert in Algiers

Lounis Aït Menguellet (17 January 1950) was born in Ighil Bouammas in Tizi Ouzou Province, is a Berber singer from Algeria, who sings in the Berber language (Kabyle variant). Lounis Aït Menguellet is certainly one of the most popular and charismatic artists of the contemporary Kabyle music scene.

He is a poet-musician who has become something of a symbol of the Kabyle demands for recognition. Kabylie has been the setting for many fierce confrontations. Although Lounis’s songs are frequently about Kabylie and its history and its present suffering and misery, he is always quick to state that he isn’t a politician and he doesn’t get involved in politics. However, few can deny the political clout of his songs or their political and sometimes very biting and critical messages.

Many critics of Lounis Aït Menguellet's career like to see it as two distinct parts and because that is a generally accepted view it will be the one offered here. The first part is seen as being centred on the production of love songs and nostalgia. Frequently there are references to a lost love. The songs tend to be shorter than he produces today. Typical songs from this period are Thalt Ayam (Three Days) and Tayri (Love). The second part of his career is characterised by longer songs which demand close reading and interpretation – for example the beautiful and tragic Akw nikhdaa rebbi (Be cursed).

Recordings[edit]

Yenna-d Umghar (The Wise Man Has Spoken) is characterised by more complex music and a much more careful presentation of lyrics in Kabyle, French and Arabic with a brief summary in English. The Lounis of Yenna-d Umghar is a far cry from the Lounis of the early work which is now quite hard to come by. The Lounis of Yenna-d Umghar is more perhaps accessible to European ears, at once alien and familiar. It is indeed a beautiful work, made all the more effective once the poetry is understood. When he presented Yenna-d Umghar on 16 January 2005 at the Maison de la Culture, Tizi Ouzou, on the occasion of his 55th birthday, he said that the artist could only draw people’s attention to their lives and appeal to their consciences. He added that it was still a mission and he didn’t consider himself capable of bringing solutions to the problems.

The latest album is Tawriqt tacebhant - (The Blank Sheet) and was released in August 2010. The title has caused some discussion in Kabyle circles because it is only comparatively recently that Kabyle has become a written language again and many of the older generation don't read and write Kabyle though they do read and write in French. The title song talks about the struggles of writing the poem and how the poet is faced with a blank sheet, he is scared that Inspiration (which is personified) will not meet him on the page. Resigned to failure, he goes outside and finds himself thinking about the nature of his task and he realises that actually what he wants to say is there, he just has to do it. He returns to the blank page and writes the poem which he leaves as an inspiration to everyone else. Whenever we start a new task that we find daunting, the poem will be there as inspiration and guidance.

Tawriqt tacebhant was to contain a Kabyle version of Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind. However, versions of the CD circulating in the UK at least, contained the lyrics to the Kabyle version but not the song itself.

Poetry[edit]

Despite the fact that Lounis continues to sing about the plight of Kabylie, his poetry has universality that transports it beyond the topical protest song to something far more enduring. He talks of situations and conflicts which are only too familiar to those outside of Kabylie. He may indeed be a poet for Kabylie but his poetry is at the same time universal and enduring. He incorporates folklore into his songs, using the traditions of the past to make comments about the state of society. For example in urğğaγ win turğğa teryel (I await the one the ogress waits for) he uses the story of Ali and the Ogress to express comments about the nature of love.

It is this universality that makes it speak to the world. It is difficult to offer an effective parallel for anglophones but the closest is perhaps Bob Dylan though Lounis’s attitude to the role of the song is perhaps more akin to that of Joan Baez. Lounis’s culture is an oral one so the song in Kabyle culture acts more like the newspaper and the leaflet of European protest. Even today when more and more Kabyle are able to read and write their language rather than reading and writing in French, this aspect is still present in Lounis’s songs. The fact that his songs are now accompanied by the lyrics is an acknowledgement of the new-found written aspect of Kabyle and the presence of the translations indicates that Lounis himself is aware that his poetry has a universal application as well as being a means to publicise the plight of Kabylie to a wider audience.

Sample Lyrics[edit]

Voyager of the Night (Immining gg-id')

If you know this is your path
If you know the goal you seek
Leave, closing the door behind
You won’t return; do not weep
Hear your steps echo in the night
That sound you learn to feel.
Night’s monster follows as of right
One of you must trot at heel
Fear is your guardian or your traitor
To the place you believed once right
Ninety nine bullets and the last awaits you
Voyager of the night.

If the storm decides to spare you
If at the end you too still thrive
Give them the news about us.
Tell them of our wretched lives
One knee bent to the ground so low
Awaiting the decision of its fellow
Time must pass before we know
If it will rise up or the other will follow
Take care at the break of day
It is likely the critical point
Ninety nine bullets and the last awaits you
Voyager of the night.

If you stand at the end then tell them
All that has been reckoned so far
How the saints still listen to our hymn
But refuse to answer our prayers
But still we wait here patiently
For their benediction’s return
Just as the hands fall in final blessing
We deny ourselves the proffered response.
Tell them that our hope is sick
And in its frailty will us forget.
Ninety nine bullets and the last awaits you
Voyager of the night.

At that certain point in time
The tempest stole you away
The voice of peace snuffed out.
No one will heed your tale this day
Born in an evening of flame
You live only one short night.
Till darkness swallowed your name
And so you have fallen at dawn
Have died without seeing the sun,
Leaving behind no hope in sight.
Ninety nine bullets and the last falsely takes you
Voyager of the night.

Discography[edit]

Year Kabyle Title French Title English Translation
1975 Telt yam Trois jours Three Days
1976 Anida teğğam mmi Où avez-vous laissé mon fils
1977 Amajahad
1978 Aεṭar
1979 Ay agu
1981 A lmus-iw Mon sabre My sword
1982 Eṭes eṭes Dors, dors Sleep, sleep
1983 A mmi Mon fils To my son
1984 Eğğet-iyi Laissez-moi Leave me
1986 Asefru Le poème The Poem
1987 Les années d'or The Golden Years
1989 Acimi Pourquoi ? Why?
1990 Avriḍ n ṭemzi (tirga n ṭemzi) Chemin de jeunesse (rêves de jeunesse) The way of youth (dreams of youth)
1992 A kwen-ixḍaε Rebbi Que Dieu vous maudisse Be Cursed
1993 Awal Mot Word
1995 Imining g iḍ Le Voyageur de Nuit Voyageur of the Night
1997 Siwel-iyi-d tamacahut Raconte-moi une histoire Tell me a story
1999 Inagan (Tiregwa) Témoins (Ruisseaux) Witness (Streams)
2002 Inasen Dis leur Tell them
2005 Yenna-d wemγar Le sage a dit The wise-man said
2010 Tawriqt Tacevhant La Feuille Blanche The Blank Sheet

Bibliography[edit]

  • Tassadit Yacine, « Aït Menguellet chante », Préface de Kateb Yacine, Paris, la Découverte, 1989.
  • Mohammed Djellaoui, « L’image poétique dans l’œuvre de Lounis Aït Menguellet - Du patrimoine à l’innovation » (Essai) - Éditions Les Pages Bleues, Alger, 2005.

External links[edit]

The official website of Lounis Ait Menguellet: http://www.aitmenguellet.net/

Wikipedia in French has a more detailed article on Lounis Ait-Menguellet. This article is based on the French version.