"The young Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi left her mark on the Tunisian revolution with her song "Kelmti Horra" (My Word Is Free). Martina Sabra met with the politically engaged artist in Cologne, Germany
It has been a year since the dictator Ben Ali fled Tunisia. You were in Tunisia at the time and you suddenly became famous with your song “Kelmti Horra” (My Word Is Free). How did this come about?
Emel Mathlouthi: I was in Tunis just before the revolution and sang on the street at a sit-in. By chance, someone recorded me on their mobile phone and posted the video on YouTube. All at once, the whole media jumped in. I was completely perplexed, because I had already sent a demo CD to different radio stations, but no one had ever responded. And then suddenly, the song was playing everywhere. Once, a car drove by and I could hear my own voice from the car radio. It was a really strange feeling!
In late January, your first international album, “Kelmti Horra,” appeared. How did this album come about?
Emel Mathlouthi: The album is made up of songs that I wrote between 2006 and 2011. Both the lyrics and the music were equally important for me. All of the songs have to do with Tunisia, the dictatorship, frustration about tyranny, and, of course, with freedom. The album bears the title “My Word Is Free” and it is meant to pay homage to all the people who lost their lives during the revolution so that we could live in a free Tunisia.
In terms of music, I tried to include all the ideas and influences that I had gathered over the years – Arab protest songs, as well as rock, pop, and all the things I heard when I was growing up. We also experimented and I think that this is the best way to make music…”
*album link added