Was it a coincidence? On February 16, the first anniversary of the Harak movement, Souad Massi came to play in Antwerp. Harak, the broad social movement that has been peacefully demonstrating every Friday in Algeria against the national political system for a year. Souad Massi, on the other hand, is one of the greatest symbols of humanity and tolerance coming from Algeria. And she was on the stage of the best concert hall in Antwerp. Coincidence? It must have been a coincidence, certainly, but it’s a fact that we are dealing with a great human rights defender in her home country and that fact cannot remain unmentioned in a review of her concert.
The hospitable welcome visitors always get in the Roma is certainly no coincidence, it is always strikingly warm and welcoming. Around 8 o’clock the main hall of the Roma was almost completely full of visitors. Was the Algerian diaspora represented in the room? Certainly, and especially by women who had come to see and hear Souad Massi. The vast majority of the audience consisted of a category of musical gourmets who knew and appreciated the name, fame, and music of Souad Massi.
Shortly after eight o’clock, the lights went out and the shadows of the musicians, going to take their on stage in the dark, became visible. Then the first tones of the title track of her most recent album “Oumniya” danced into the hall. Souad played the repetitive intro on her guitar and soon the Ud of Mehdi Malil came in to color the musical palette with his “maqqaams”; the tone intervals that can cover a broad spectrum of rich emotions. The beautiful and large-scale light-show carefully lit the four musicians one by one. Finally, the spotlight pointed on Souad Massi herself when she started singing. Her voice was pure, flawless. Crystal clear she sang the hope she wished her countrymen. The hope for a better life for themselves and their children.
Without stopping, Souad played the first songs with her band. No word, no break, pure concentration. The musicians are of an outstanding category and Souad brought the audience to silence and rapture several times in perfect harmonious singing with darbouka-player Rabah Kalfa.
The set was balanced and varied, with an emphasis on the songs from the last album. Nowhere the attention of the audience faded and the energy kept going up and down between the audience and musicians. It is rare to be able to achieve this flow at a live concert.
Slowly Souad worked with her phenomenal band towards an apotheosis. This band is not a regular bread players band. The fun exploded off the stage when the musicians whipped each other up. Souad conducted the whole from her chair, playing her guitar. The creativity of the musicians regularly broke through the straitjacket of the compositions. They surprised themselves and went along with the music that brought them and the audience together this evening.
Then Souad performed “Je chante” and time stood still. Only with her guitar did she reduce the Roma concert hall for everyone to a space where Souad seemed to sing only for each individual present, but at the same time for the whole world. Angelic was the comparison that came up when she sang. The melancholy took hold of everyone and Souad sang, she sang as if nothing else existed. So beautiful, so beautiful. An older woman in the audience let her tears run, while her daughter stood next to her with her headscarf raised in one hand, softly murmuring the song, while she grabbed her mother’s hand. All chakras opened at the same time, only not for the very few to have a heart of pure rusted cast iron.
Then Souad Massi struck a final hit with the delicate ‘Pays Natal’, where the opening on the Ud was only an introduction to yet another heartbreakingly beautiful ode to family, tradition, respect and freedom. There were certainly sharp edges, leave that to Souad Massi, but a good listener only needs half a word.
Towards the end of the show the band shifted to a higher gear and derbouka virtuoso Rabah Kalfa and percussionist Adriano Tenorio were used as joker. A minute-long vortex of percussion extravaganza was unleashed over the audience. Accompanied by a spectacular light show, the universe that had come to a halt just minutes ago, started moving again. It created a whirlpool in which everyone wanted to drown themself. Without the presence of any electrical or electronic instrument on stage, the band blew the crowd away. If the roof had blown off in the storm, it would not have been clear afterwards whether it would have been due to the weather or the hurricane of music in the Roma.
An unparalleled beautiful concert had almost come to its end, but Souad could not leave without having played that one song. She met the public demand that she had made hers and played “Raoui.” Once again all alone on the big stage. The audience once again gave all they had. It passed, too fast, too fast. Souad Massi in the Roma was a one-time experience that visitors will remember for a long time. Long enough until Souad Massi will return to the stage of the Roma. This concert was the perfect 10.