Emel Mathlouthi

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Emel Mathlouthi
Emel Mathlouthi Cosmopolite 2017 (212802).jpg
Emel Mathlouthi in 2017
Background information
Also known asEmel
BornTunis, Tunisia
GenresArab avant-garde • electronic music
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter • music producer
InstrumentsElectric guitar
Years active2010–present
LabelsPartisan Records, Little Human Records

Emel Mathlouthi (Arabic: آمال المثلوثي‎) (born January 11, 1982) is a Tunisian singer-songwriter best known for her protest songs "Ya Tounes Ya Meskina" ("Poor Tunisia") and "Kelmti Horra" ("My Word is Free"), which became anthems for the Tunisian revolution. Her first studio album, also titled Kelmti Horra, was released worldwide by Harmonia Mundi in 2012 to critical acclaim. Her second album, "Ensen", was released by Partisan Records in 2017, also to considerable acclaim. In 2015 she performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.[1][2][3] Emel was titled as Voice of Tunisian Revolution due to her song Kelmti Horra.[4]

Early life and career[edit]

Emel Mathlouthi started singing and acting since she was 8 years old in a suburb of her hometown Tunis. She wrote her first song when she was 10 years old. She discovered her strong vocal capacities when she was 15, encouraged by her entourage and inspired by great pop singers of the 90's. She found a strong refuge in heavy metal a bit later and gothic music and formed her first metal band at a university in Tunis when she was 19. A few years later deeply moved by the voice and ideas of Joan Baez after her bandmate played "The boxer" for her, she quit the band and began writing political songs,discovering her big frustration by the lack of opportunities and the apathy of her compatriots such as "Ya Tounes Ya Meskina" ("Poor Tunisia"). In 2006 she was a finalist in the Prix RMC Moyen-Orient Musique competition.[5] She decided to move to Paris, France, in 2008 when the Tunisian government banned her songs from radio and TV.[6] Although banned from Tunisian airwaves, bootlegs of her live performances in France circulated on the internet in Tunisia. After the death of Mohamed Bouazizi she dedicated an Arabic version of the Joan Baez song "Here's To You" to him.[7]

She was recorded on the Avenue Habib Bourguiba singing "Kelmti Horra" to protesters and it became a viral video.[8][9][10] She has given concerts in Egypt and Iraq, and performed in Canada at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and the Festival du Monde Arabe de Montréal.[1]

At the beginning of July 2012, she gave a groundbreaking concert in Baghdad, Iraq.[11] On July 28 she gave a concert at the Sfinks Festival in Belgium, where she received a standing ovation for her cover of the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah".[12] In 2013, after her first concert in Cairo since the revolution, Ahram Online described her as "The Fairuz of her generation". She opened for Dead Can Dance in the festival Les nuits de Fourvière in Lyon and performed at the WOMAD Festival at Charlton Parkin the UK. Israeli authorities refused to let her enter Ramallah to perform, so she sang in front of a camera in Jordan. The small show was broadcast to the Palestinian audience in a theater in Ramallah.

In 2015 she was invited to perform at both the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony and The Nobel Peace Prize Concert along with A-ha and Aurora, where she performed two renditions of her song "Kelmti Horra," one accompanied only by a guitarist, Karim Attoumane, and the other with a full orchestra and chorus. The concert was hosted by Jay Leno, who praised her in the concert press conference as being the first Arabic-language singer to catch his attention.

In 2017 she performed returned to Tunisia for her first concert there in five years, headlining the prestigious Carthage Festival. That summer she also performed at the Beitaddine Festival in Lebanon, and the SummerStage festival in Central Park, New York City.

Debut album: Kelmti Horra (My Word Is Free)[edit]

Emel Mathlouthi released her debut, Kelmti Horra, in January 2012.[13] The album was influenced by Joan Baez, Massive Attack, and Björk. As a politically aware musician, the songs in the album have made promising duty to speak out on any injustice that Emel has witnessed about her beloved Tunisia. While she sings about humanity and a better world, the success of this album has made her to reach many more people in different parts of the world. As the song, "Kelmti Horra" (My Word is Free), was considered as "the anthem of the Arab Spring," it has been Emel's most famous song so far. The outstanding success of this songs led her to perform it on December 11, 2015, during the award ceremony of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo,[14] which was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet.

Second album: Ensen (Human)[edit]

Ensen (Human), this album was released on February 24, 2017 by Partisan Records.[15] The album was recorded in seven countries including Iceland, Sweden, France, and the US.[16] Producers of the album include the former Björk collaborator, Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurðsson and Emel's main collaborator Franco-Tunisian producer Amine Metani.[17] The first single off the album, "Ensen Dhaif" (Human, Helpless Human), was named as "best new track" by Pitchfork on February 16, 2016. As Mathlouthi explains, the song is dedicated to the "people that have to carry the weight and all the struggles so that a very small percentage can enjoy the power."[16]


Mathlouthi lists her early musical influences as Joan Baez, Marcel Khalife and Sheikh Imam.[16] Her other musical influences include Janis Joplin, Sinéad O’Connor, Led Zeppelin, James Blake Roger Waters and Fuck Buttons.[18]


Mathlouthi's singular style is a mix of North African sounds and modern electronic production.


Mathlouthi was featured in the 2014 documentary No Land's Song by Ayat Najafi, in which she becomes the first female to sing as a soloist in Iran since 1979. Her music has been used in the soundtracks of several movies.


Mathlouthi collaborates frequently with top and emerging designers for her stagewear, including Manish Arora, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Ahmed Talfit but most frequently with compatriot Azzedine Alaia



(Reworks Album)

Contributing artist


  1. ^ a b Varty, Alexander (July 12, 2012). "Vancouver Folk Music Festival performers use music to make a difference". Vanvouver Free Press. Archived from the original on July 14, 2012. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  2. ^ Curiel, Jonathan (May 9, 2012). "Emel Mathlouthi: The Arab Singer Who Inspired Tunisians in Revolution". KQED. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  3. ^ Caroline Kulsum and Noor Al Khatib (25 June 2011). "Minstrels of the Arab Revolution". Gulf News. Archived from the original on 9 November 2012. Retrieved 9 November 2012. Emel Mathlouthi, a Tunisian musician is yet another protester who asks for equality and tranquility in her native country: The morphine we've been injected with for 23 years is no longer enough to dull our pain. She had always said that one of the artists that she looked up to the most was John Lennon, she considered him to be her idol.
  4. ^ "Singer Emel Mathlouthi on why she's known as 'voice of the Tunisian revolution'". Arab News.
  5. ^ "1e édition du Prix RMC Moyen-Orient Musique" (in French). RFI Musique. June 16, 2006. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  6. ^ Westall, Sylvia (July 4, 2012). "Voice of Tunisian spring calls for justice, equality". Reuters. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  7. ^ "A Song for Bouazizi by Emel Mathlouthi". France 24 (in Arabic). January 18, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  8. ^ Daniel Gumbiner (2012). Now That We Have Tasted Hope: Voices from the Arab Spring. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 22. ISBN 1614520208.
  9. ^ Mathlouthi, Amel. "My word is Free, English Subtitled (Tunisian revolution)". youtube.com.
  10. ^ "Emel Mathlouthi, le jasmin et la voix". Mars Actu (in French). July 20, 2012. Archived from the original on April 3, 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2012.
  11. ^ Westall, Sylvia (July 11, 2012). "After Saddam and war, Iraq's musicians look to home". Reuters. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  12. ^ Crooijmans, Charlie. ""In France I found my Tunisian identity"- an interview with Emel Mathlouthi". NewsAndNoise.Wordpress.com (self-publicised). Archived from the original on 10 November 2012. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
  13. ^ "Emel Mathlouthi: Voice Of The Tunisian Revolution". NPR.org. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  14. ^ "Emel Mathlouthi | Festival International Nuits d'Afrique de Montréal". www.festivalnuitsdafrique.com. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  15. ^ Gaworecki, Mike (2017-02-22). "On 'Ensen', Emel Creates Revolutionary Hybrid Sounds". Brooklyn Magazine. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  16. ^ a b c Pelly, Jenn (September 14, 2016). "Why the World Needs Emel Mathlouthi's Anthems Against the Dictatorship Machine". Pitchfork.
  17. ^ "Store | Partisan Records". shop.partisanrecords.com. Retrieved 2016-12-05.
  18. ^ Olbrich, Suze (February 24, 2017). "Emel Mathlouthi: 'It's important to be out there as a creative woman from a Muslim culture'". The Guardian.
  19. ^ Neil Spencer, "Emel Mathlouthi: Kelmti Horra – review", The Observer, February 19, 2012.

External links[edit]