Interview 20 North Africa Times Sunday 9-15/3/2008
A Drive to Achieve the Extraordinary
By Juliet Frerking would be used to ﬁgure that one out; or that we
would be tempted to research everything about
believe in the challenge to accomplish some- Namibia because it was home of the world’s
thing out of the ordinary. I have to confess fastest caterpillar. Leanne settled on holding
that I acquired this belief from the Guinness her breath for the longest time, and I decided to
Book of World Records. That book showed me make the world’s largest cookie. Thus, Leanne
the value of equal opportunity and competition. joined the swim team, and I gained 10 pounds.
It proved to me, early on, that I could rise above The Guinness book taught me tenacity and
anonymity and achieve remarkable things. perseverance and, more importantly, the desire
When I was 9, I used to huddle in the back of to do something unexpected. So many people in
the library with my friend Leanne, and we’d turn the book were mocked by family and friends for
the 1991 edition of the Guinness book’s pages what they were doing, yet they did it. I see them
with purple hands sticky from raspberry Laffy as success stories - the normal people who did
Taffy. Reassured by Mrs. Balanoff, our third- something extraordinary.
grade teacher, that we could be anything when In college, I decided to study Arabic before
we grew up, we felt challenged by 320 pages of Sept. 11. I am not Muslim or of Arab descent; I
incredible feats. And so, with the obsessive fo- am a Southern Baptist girl from Texas. Enticed
cus of 9-year-olds, we assumed the daily task of by the sounds of elongated alifs and lams, I fell
ﬁnding our place in the universe. in love with the complexity of the language and
The Guinness Book of World Records taught the beauty of its slanting script. After gradua-
me to believe in the accessibility of the improb- tion, to put my skills to use, I moved to Cairo,
able. I was captured by the little bit of fame con- and then to Tunisia, where I just ﬁnished work-
ferred by inclusion in that book: the fastest, the ing with divorced women.
longest, the widest, the most — whatever you I am not saving the world, I am not the best
can imagine. It opened up the possibility of what at what I do, but I am only 24 — there’s still
I might be able to do. time. The Guinness book helped give me new
I was attracted to the lure of the unusual. How perspective on the impossible and instilled in me
long would it take to grow my ﬁngernails to beat the desire to try something unconventional. I be-
a record for a total of 14-feet, 6 inches? I bet lieve in making the implausible a reality, and I
our teachers never thought the equation “d=rt” hope to someday break a few records myself.
A Minute with Souad Massi
By Raissa Kasolowsky and they say: I have a headache, do you have
lgerian singer and guitarist Souad Q: When you write your songs, what in-
Massi has won critical acclaim for her spires you?
extraordinary voice and her songs that A: It depends. For example, there are plen-
tell of love, exile and nostalgia, blending in- ty of songs on the ﬁrst album where there were
ﬂuences from American-style folk, Flamenco very intense, difﬁcult moments. That's when
and pop with the classical Arabo-Andalusian you write, when you get the idea and then
music of North Africa. develop it. For example, "Le Bien et le Mal"
Massi, 35, grew up in the working-class Bab ("Good and Evil") was a song that I wrote after
El Oued neighbourhood of Algiers and took I saw the ﬂoods in Algeria. I was sad, sad be-
up singing and playing the guitar at an early cause I said to myself - we've had a civil war,
age. But the civil war in Algeria in the 1990s problems, an economic crisis - I was under the
and the targeting of musicians and artists dur- impression that we were a cursed people. This
ing the Islamist insurrection threatened to stop hurt me a lot.
her ﬂedgling musical career in its tracks. Q: What do you think about always being
In 1999, she was invited to perform at a labeled a world music artist?
small festival for Algerian women in Paris, A: Now it makes me smile...At the begin-
which led to a record deal. Massi left Algeria ning I thought that they just couldn't be both-
ered to make the distinction: She's Arab - she follow it to the end. you going to talk about now? I've been touring
and now lives in France with her husband and for seven years. I've given many concerts, I've
small daughter, where she enjoys huge suc- makes world music. Senegalese, Russian - it's Q: Are you going to play with (Blur singer/
all world music. As long as you're not English songwriter) Damon Albarn again? traveled a lot, I have a young daughter, and for
cess.She said after playing a special acoustic the ﬁrst time in my life I am on a break. I went
set at a ﬁlm festival for women directors from or French, what you do is world music. That's A: He invited me to a workshop he did
why I say it's a racism problem. called Africa Express in December 2006, and to Algeria...I took a break to understand what
North Africa and the Middle East in London. is happening to me, to analyze my work, to
Q: You come across as someone who is very Q: But you say that now it makes you we're going to do it again in March (March 6
smile? at the Liverpool Olympia). I like these work- correct my errors, to learn, to re-learn how to
friendly and open, who smiles and laughs a lot live because you lose yourself a bit when you
- but there is a lot of sadness in your songs. A: Yes, because I have some distance now shops because there is a stage, and there are
- I have nothing to prove. And there are some instruments and you play and sing when you travel. When you give, afterwards you have
A: Yes, but the majority of people who are nothing left.
sad - it's not that they hide behind a smile or virtuosos, real virtuosos that are (classed as) feel like it. He invites you and you do as you
world music - it doesn't matter. please. It's good because Albarn has a certain Q: So what did you write about?
a laugh - one isn't always sad. When we're A: When I saw Paul I said to him I would
sad, this marks us. I'm a singer and I sing it. Q: Yesterday you were in the studio with global status and he does things for Arabic
Paul Weller. How is it to collaborate with and African music - it's a great undertaking by like speak about a good friend of mine who I
A painter would paint it. Sometimes I worry respect and love very much who is living an
that people think it's an act - but it's true that I him? him.
A: He is someone very spontaneous and Q: Your songs explore themes such as love enormous injustice and at the same time speak
adore talking to people. Sometimes I ﬁnd that about what is happening in the world through
when I go into a shop or I'm on a train, people I like that. He told me he discovered my al- and immigration. What will you write about
bums and he said he adored one of my songs next? her, to ﬁnd metaphors, ﬁnd unspoken things. I
in Europe have lost the habit of talking to peo- wrote about that - but I thought I wouldn't be
ple they don't know. - "Ghir Inta" ("I only love you") - and he made A: Yesterday with Paul Weller - it was crazy
a version of it, which is magniﬁcent...It made because there are things that are very private able to write. He just gave me a piece of paper
Q: Do you think this is a trait from Bab El and said "Go!" I said: "Now? But I need time."
Oued? me happy to meet a legend like him who is that one daren't say to those who are closest to
so nice, who has such a drive to make music. you. You may be in a taxi or at the hairdressers He told me to go then, and I wrote the song. It
A: Yes, this is something from where I come did me well, because I think about it a lot.
from. Now I go back and I don't know anyone, Yesterday, we worked until three in the morn- and everything spills out.
ing. We were tired but he didn't want to leave I never understood how that happens. Paul It's called "Laisse-moi en paix" - "Leave
but children, adults, everyone says hello, good me in peace".
evening to you. You might even meet someone the studio. He had an idea and he wanted to Weller is great and he said to me, so what are