Lounis Ait Menguellet – Musician with a Message
Lounis Ait Menguellet is widely considered to be one of the most popular artists in contemporary Kabylian, or Berber, music. As the youngest of six children, Menguellet was born on 17 January 1950 in the village of Ighil Bouammas in the Kabylia region of Algeria. Although stating emphatically that he does not get involved in politics, his lyrics address political and social issues that his audience find easy to relate to and he has become a symbol of Berber identity and an advocate for change and progress.
Those who have analyzed the career of this much-loved poet have noted that his works started out on a sentimental theme about life and love, before moving toward more philosophical and political themes, often with a tone of direct criticism. When asked about this transition at the release of his album Yenna-d Umghar in 2005, Menguellet noted that although it was not in his power to provide solutions to the problems faced by the people, artists can highlight various issues to the public, which could lead to people questioning their conscience. Despite the title of his album, meaning “The Wise Man Has Spoken’, and his considerable influence with his fans, Menguellet displays humility as he points out that he is just an ordinary man making statements that are meaningful to him.
While the poetry of Lounis Ait Menguellet focuses on the trials and tribulations of the Kabyle people, its themes of protest against injustice are meaningful to all who have been victims of conflict, and he has a following of fans far beyond the borders of Algeria. Some have likened his lyrics to those of Bob Dylan – he has even recorded a version of Bob Dylan’s classic Blowin’ in the Wind – and while the music styles of the two artists are different, the sentiments expressed are very similar.
The Kabyle people, also referred to as Kabylians, are from the Kabylia, or Kabylie, region of Algeria which covers several of the provinces of Algeria along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and part of the Tell Atlas mountains. They are the largest community in North Africa that is entirely Berber and have experienced conflict and hardship during the various governmental changes in the region. Nevertheless, there is a conscious effort by community leaders to preserve the Kabyle language, culture and traditions. Lounis Ait Menguellet presents the Kabyle identity and its rich culture, as well as its challenges, to a wide audience through his thought-provoking poetry and music.