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Haydar Hamdi: voice of Tunisia's free youth sings of broken dreams

By Alison Hird

After taking an active part in the so-called Jasmine Revolution in 2011, Tunisian musician Haydar Hamdi moved to Paris and formed an oriental dub band with four friends. They've forged an original "wierd" sound, Tunisian Dub, blending reggae, electronic effects and oriental scales.

Haydar Hamdi is a five-piece band: Hamdi (vocals), Nidhal Jaoua (qanun), Slim Abida (bass), Narjess Saad (percussion), Tarek Maaroufi (drum set, guembri).

Their unusual sound comes from their very different musical backgrounds.

"When you hear that skinky reggae, with a like ska bass on drums doing on a dub sort of thing, Nidhal with the qanun - the oriental touch - it’s a very weird sound," Hamdi explains with his customary flow.

After four years they're finding their public and have performed in some of the biggest Paris venues, including Casino de Paris. And having played in big alternative festivals back in Tunisia in 2015, they're making inroads there too.

"When you see youth playing guitar on the streets they are playing our music, so it's very cool."

And it's music with a message. Active in the 2011 protests in Tunis, Hamdi was arrested and spent five days in police custody.

"I was on the street, with everybody,  they take you to the post office and type in Haydar Hamdi and say 'oh your facebook is quite revolutionary, come here'. And we stayed for five days. So I feel like a child of that revolution."

The main thing that came out of it he says is freedom of expression. "Now everybody in Tunisia can tell whatever he wants."

The problem is they're not using it to change the situation many young people find themselves in. For example, jobless.

"There’s an economical crisis, work crisis, social crisis, people need a lot of things, but when you ask them what they want now they have freedom of speech, everybody’s talking and nobody’s concentrating on what we can do to resolve those problems."

The band's edgy, thought-provoking debut album Fikra (Idea) pulls no punches in recounting the daily problems facing young people .. and the post-revolution disappointment that followed.

In the song Memory Hamdi addresses influential musicians on the alternative scene in Tunisia who've failed to used that hard-won freedom of speech.  "Where is the dream? I feel so alone" he sings. 

"We're telling them 'four years later we look at you and you’re still the same'."

Hamdi says the band is trying to change things in their own way, giving an alternative "idea" of how things could be through their music. But they feel let down.

"We feel so alone because we were dreaming about the same things at that time, and now we find we’re the only [ones] who are remaining."

Their music, however, is anything but mournful. Driving rhythms, black humour and sheer energy on stage is their potent antidote to apathy. One of the band's early hits is called "Soldier of Sound".

"In our music, we can talk to the people, tell them that problems are still here," he says. "And at the same time we make them dance. Making the people dance and telling them something important, I think you can be a soldier like that."

Haydar Hamdi play Paris's Alimentation Générale on 5 October. Follow the band on facebook

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