Traditional music of Gourara archipelago of oases features the poetry of endangered languages
Ahalli de Gourara CD cover
Located in southwest Algeria, Gourara is one of the most picturesque areas of the Sahara desert. This unique region is the home to about a hundred oases and a population of approximately 50,000 people of Berber, Arab and Sudanese origin whose languages and musical traditions are endangered.
The main poetic and musical genre of Gourara is ahellil which is regularly performed at religious festivities and pilgrimages as well as secular celebrations, such as weddings and community events. Symbolizing the cohesion of the community living in a harsh environment, ahellil is closely associated with the desert lifestyle and its oasis agriculture.
Ahellil performance usually begins with diverse percussion rhythms against the backdrop of which the leading singer sets out the main melody that is then varied by the choir of as many as one hundred people. Standing shoulder to shoulder in a circle surrounding the leading vocalist, the choir slowly moves around him clapping their hands. Various musical instruments such as sintir and bengri-flute are also often involved in the performance, providing both accompaniment and solo.
Listen to Tagarrâbt performed live in Gourara:
Such songs and dances can be performed throughout the night involving various groups of musicians and singers. Most often, ahellil chants feature lyrics in the language of Gourara which has no written system and is threatened with extinction due to the rapid decline of native speakers.
The local tradition of ahellil poetry and music in Gurara has been listed as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.