Mariem Hassan, ‘Voice of the Sahara’, died of bone cancer aged 57 on 22nd August 2015, in a Saharawi refugee camp near Tinduf, Algeria, where she spent her final days with family.
Born in May 1958, Hassan went on to become the voice of the displaced Saharawi of Western Sahara. Having worked as a nurse in the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria in the late 1970s, Hassan began her professional music career with the group El Uali. With this group she toured the refugee camps, encouraging Polisario fighters and resistance against the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. With El Uali she brought more attention to the Saharawi cause, taking the message on tour to Europe.
The standout album of her time with El Uali was 'Polisario Vencera', which was originally released in 1982, before being re-released in 1998. In the early 2000s Hassan performed with the group Mujeres Saharauis, recording a collection of ancient spiritual songs, whilst mainting her strong political voice through her music by gradually performing more as a solo artist.
Her first solo album was ‘Deseos’ released in 2005, but as she gained more and more international recognition with her broad repertoire which spread from emotive mournful songs and calls to action, she was diagnosed with cancer. In 2007 Hassan was featured in the documentary, ‘Mariem Hassan: La Voz de la Sahara’, made by her producer and manager from Spain Manuel Dominguez. He described her as 'one of the most charismatic and respected figures on the world music scene.'
From 2008-2010 Hassan was invited to perform at a series of WOMAD festivals in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, before releasing the album 'Shouka'. This album delved into the history of the Saharawi, through collaboration with the poet Lamin Allal and using traditional Saharawi instruments.
2012 saw the release of her third solo album, 'El Aaiun Egdat',which was inspired by the protests against the attack on the Gdeim Izik camp and the Arab Spring, cementing her reputation as a powerful voice of hope and resistance, and continuing the esteem in which she was held.
Mariem Hassan's final album, 'Baila Sahara Baila', a collection of dance songs, was released earlier this year.