Emel Mathlouthi – Ensen Dhaif
French thinker and writer Albert Camus famously wrote in his essay The Rebel that, “the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” In a world filled with metaphysical irony, political absurdity and a constant search for a higher purpose, the powers that be, will collide with the morphing morals of the human being, thus creating a vacuum within. When an individual knows that something within has been violated, he also understands that this violation “does not belong to him alone, but is the common ground where all men have a natural community.” Long before the era of social media, Camus recognised that rebellion moves from individual to collective response, as he argued that “I rebel – therefore we exist.”
Freedom has its limits and for Tunis-born Emel Mathlouthi, those limits mean she has the power to rebel. Mathlouthi found her act of rebellion in music, and has build a repertoire of protest songs for the people in distress, who crave a different kind of freedom.. She has been banned from the official airwaves of Tunisia, and ultimately fled the country in 2007 for the greater good of her artistry. Her song ‘Kelmti Horra (My Word Is Free)’ spread online, mutated with the wave of change in the Middle East, and became an anthem for the Arab Spring revolutionaries. She was present as the first protests in Tunisia started to erupt in December of 2010, and when Ben Ali’s 23-year dictatorship came to an end at the the beginning of 2011, she sang ‘Kelmti Horra’ as a tribute to the protesters. It was the first time the song was openly broadcast around her home country; she eventually sang it at a ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2015.
On ‘Ensen Dhaif (Little Human)’, her first song of 2016, Mathlouthi explores the limits of her freedom to rebel. In her own words, the song is “about the fact that we all think we’re in control and we’re told to push and give – but we’re nothing but twigs at the mercy of winds,” a conflict set aflame by a hard-edged undercurrent. North African rhythm traditions, Arabic melodies, Western folk and industrial beats flow through Mathlouthi’s musical stream, but it is her voluptuous voice that conducts the fusion into a whole, and on ‘Ensen Dhaif’ the voice shifts between combative and sensitive. Mathlouthi’s vocal, reminiscent of Björk´s sensuous belting, get under your skin with its beauty and brutality, and refuses to be compromised by the towering beats. ‘Ensen Dhaif’ commands a reaction from the listener: Like Beyoncé did on ‘Formation’, Mathlouthi recognises that freedom has its limits everywhere a human being is to be found, and as long as we live in a world with oppression, the best way to cause a disruption, is to use those limits as a power to rebel. Mathlouthi uses her voice to extract the feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified – and that type of power should never be ignored or taken for granted.
‘Ensen Dhaif’ is produced by Emel Mathlouthi herself and Amine Metani with additional production from Valgeir Sigurðsson, the Icelandic composer and producer, who is a longtime collaborator of Björk. Mathlouthi is currently planning to release her next album in the fall of 2016.