Ikram Bouloum Traces The Nuances Of Diaspora Culture In EP Ha-bb5

The inaugural offering by the Barcelona-based Moroccan artist imagines a better reality, in which the inner knots of identity can be untied.

by Claudia Galal - Published on 07/07/2021
Ikram Bouloum. Photo: Ana Larruy. COURTESY

Identity is an ever-changing, complex intertwining of elements and dimensions: past and present, nature and culture, public and private, individual and collective. Moroccan artist Ikram Bouloum expresses these facets through her work as a singer and a musician, but also as a performer and visual artist.

In the debut EP, entitled Ha-bb5 and released by Barcelona label So Urgent, Bouloum tackles the theme of identity, linking it to other complex and painful issues, such as migration, which she experienced firsthand, and the need to find a voice and a space even outside one’s context of origin. The intense five-track piece of work is a sort of conceptualization of the cycle of birth and death, passing through tragedy. It is based on a strong “culture shock made up of personal and other inherited experiences,” Ikram tells me. “With this awareness, I understood how important it was to start talking about this condition and visualise it in some way. For me it is essential to discuss birth, tragedy and death, so it becomes a process of transforming this energy into something less painful. Ha-bb5 is a poetic effort to resolve and make the ancestral burden that my ancestors and I carry with us lighter.”

Produced by Mans O, “now an expert connoisseur of the [Bouloum’s] soundscape,” the tracks of the EP build a bridge between Western-style electronic, pop and dance music typical of the Maghreb, offering new possibilities of dialogue with expressive forms that are apparently disparate. The sources of inspiration are many, the creative stimuli varied: “Generally, and practically, I am deeply influenced by all the music I encountered, listened to and selected as a DJ, but also by all the Moroccan music I inherited, that I used to listen to as a child with my family, in my home or during our trips; also, from the stories my grandmother told me and from some intimate and everyday-life experiences.” However, there is also an abstract aspect to it, “the utopia that guided me in the production of Ha-bb5, the possibility of imagining a better reality, in which my personal and inner knots can be untied. That’s how I understood what I had to sort out within myself.”

Ha-bb5 wants to overturn rules and stereotypes imposed by others, underlining a truth that is not always evident and quite uncomfortable for the status quo: the struggle for self-affirmation is tougher if you come from another culture, and it is even more difficult if you are a woman. Bouloum’s is a feminist and innovative voice, calling for emancipation and power through a radical sound. “For me, feminism is an ethical and political lifestyle. I have never felt faced with a choice: it was feminism or feminism. In today’s world, intersectional feminism is the only option we have to combat the patriarchal system, which is the cause of all structural disasters. It gives you perspective and empathy to understand and help people, and to fight abuses of all kinds.”

The artist mixes her native tongue, the Berber Amazigh dialect, with Catalan and English in a frenetic alternation of tradition and modernity which follows the story of a life cycle: birth, death and tragedy, rebirth and purification. “Language is a tool. In my mind each language has a different structure and a function: when I want to talk about intimate, family matters, the perfect dimension is that of my mother tongue, Amazigh. When I want to be understood by everyone, English is the obvious choice, while when I want to reflect on simpler and more everyday topics, it comes naturally to me to use Catalan.”

In the opening track, Henna, the rich Maghrebi percussion overlaps with the distorted synths, as the heat of the desert drums carries the sounds of western words deformed and dehumanised by Auto-Tune. It announces a transformation that will be completed at the end of the record like in a dangerous game. The Game is the last song. Here Bouloum looks at herself from two opposing perspectives: her own and that of another person who wants to replace her. This is how an entire generation of sons and daughters of the diaspora feel, living with a traumatic identity that is constantly in conflict with itself.

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Half Italian, half Egyptian, I was born in Marche, I lived in Bologna fora while, and I’ve been adopted by Milan. I work in the field of communication and media. I write about music, street art, counter-cultures and I’m deeply fascinated by cultural contamination at any level.