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Folk duo Ÿuma bring love and poetry to Tunisia's young generation

By Alison Hird

Ÿuma are an alternative folk duo from Tunisia. One of the rare bands to sing in Tunisian dialect, they've just released their second album Poussière d'Etoiles. They talk to RFI about breathing new life into a music scene dominated by rap and hip hop, and explain why their songs are so popular with a young generation in dire need of love and affection.

Vocalist Sabrine Jenhani and guitarist Rami Zoghlemi formed Ÿuma in December 2015. They quickly built up a fan base online through mashups mixing classical Arab and western songs and released their first album Chura in March 2016 through crowdfunding.

Their musical universe is acoustic based:  folk, blues, alternative rock, and unlike most Tunisian bands who sing in French or English, they sing in the Tunisian dialect, daja.

"We’re revisiting our heritage in a way because it’s been quite neglected. The Tunisian dialect isn’t that widely spoken anymore,” says Zoghlemi.

And apart from in rap, daja isn’t used much in music.

“So the adages, the old sayings and expressions are disappearing,” he continues. “You could say we’re doing kind of anthropological work through our lyrics.  And that’s breathing new life into the Tunisian dialect.”

“I think we are kind of pioneers on this stage,” Jenhani continues. “Maybe taking the risk, singing in Tunisian dialect now, and making folk music as mainstream as it is with Ÿuma’s music is maybe encouraging producers, musicians, to go further…. towards Tunisian dialect and folk music.”

Duo tunisien Yuma en concert au Studio de l'Ermitage le 6 mars 2018 © Amir Dhaouadi

Songs of quiet resistance

Many of their songs are about love but Ÿuma are not afraid to tackle social issues.

Mestenni Ellil is about forced marriage.

“It’s a letter addressed to the beloved person and that person is I’m waiting for that letter all night long and it never comes,” Jenhani explains. “And actually his beloved has been married to the [richer] neighbour. That’s how it goes, it’s 2018 and still happening in Tunisia that women are forced to marry someone they don’t love.”

Even songs that allude to other sensitive issues like sexuality, are peppered with allusions and metaphors, inviting people in what remains a conservative society to think rather than shocking them into silence.

“Our Tunisian public is fairly young - between 17 and 25 - and they’re really lacking in love and affection,” says Zoghlemi. "Young people still struggle to be alone together, to love one another and express affection or even pain. So I guess we’re like little mediators, bringing people closer through our music.”

Ÿuma recently performed at Studio de l’Ermitage in Paris. The hall was full of twenty somethings from the Tunisian diaspora, many in couples, smiling and swaying as they sang along to hits like Chura, Smek or the more recent Nghir alik.

You don’t have to understand Tunisian dialect to feel the power of Yuma’s music. Their sound is full of emotion: powerful in its simplicity and sincerity.

Follow Ÿuma on facebook

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