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Tunisian protest singer Emel Mathlouthi releasing a new LP on Partisan, touring

Emel Ensen

Emel Mathlouthi is a Tunisian singer/songwriter living in New York, where she recently relocated from Paris, where she moved in 2008 after her music was banned in Tunisia during the rule of Ben Ali “because she sang about liberty and corruption.” She released her debut album Kelmti Horra on the French label World Village in 2012, and now she’s signed to US label Partisan Records and set to release her sophomore album Ensen this Friday (2/24). She made the album with Valgeir Sigurðsson (who’s worked with Sigur Ros and Bjork), as well as her frequent collaborator Amine Metani.

She recently premiered a video for “Lost” off that album on NPR. In 2013, NPR ran a piece on Emel called “Emel Mathlouthi: Voice Of The Tunisian Revolution.” It’s not hyperbole, one of her songs actually became an anthem for protesters during the Arab Spring uprising in 2010. Here’s an excerpt from that NPR article:

In the summer of 2007, at the iconic Place de la Bastille in Paris, where the French Revolution began, Mathlouthi sang “Kelmti Horra” (“My Word Is Free”) to an audience of tens of thousands. A video of the performance reached Tunisia and resonated with protesters in the streets.

“She has so much courage to sing that around that time,” says MC Rai, a 35-year-old Tunisian singer and composer based in San Francisco. “When the dictators in Tunisia, the old regime, were in the top of their power — and for her to even have the courage to sing that, when she was living still between France and Tunisia — I thought she really was a true artist, because that’s what the art is about.”

Four years later, Mathlouthi returned to the streets of Tunis to sing “Kelmti Horra” just hours before President Ben Ali fled the country.

Musically, Emel makes a sort of electronic art pop — it makes sense that she cites Bjork as an influence. She talked to Pitchfork in a ‘Rising’ feature about why she chose an indie record label like Partisan over a “world music” label for her new album:

I started approaching labels when I finished [recording the album]. It was really hard. I didn’t want to go to the world music scene. I got tired of always having that stamp. But the problem is that, as soon as the indie and electronic labels hear Arabic singing, they say: “Oh OK, world music.” At the same time, world music labels are like: “Oh my god, this is too different.”

Emel has played NYC a handful of times, including at France Rocks Summerfest last year (with La Femme) and at globalFEST 2015. She’ll play here again to celebrate the release of Ensen the day it comes out at Joe’s Pub (2/24). Tickets are on sale.

All of her other upcoming shows are in Europe. All dates are listed, with the new “Lost” video and some older videos that help tell her story, below.

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Emel Mathlouthi — 2017 Tour Dates
Feb 24 Joe’s Pub New York, NY
Feb 27 The Lexington London, United Kingdom
Apr 01 LES ABATTOIRS Bourgoin Jallieu, France
Apr 05 Ampere / Muffatwerk München, Germany
Apr 06 CBE Cologne, Germany
Apr 07 Brotfabrik Frankfurt, Germany
Apr 08 Kantine am Berghain Berlin, Germany
Apr 14 LA SOURIS VERTE Épinal, France
Apr 21 Toucouleurs Toulouse, France

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