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A voice to be heard: An Interview with Meryem Saci, as she embarks on her first solo project
If you have ever been fortunate enough to see Meryem perform on stage, as one of Nomadic Massive’s lead singers, you have undoubtedly been blown away by her unmistakably powerful voice and stage presence. While I had seen Meryem perform numerous times before, I had no idea where this undeniable inner strength came from. Born in Algeria and raised by a single mother, Meryem shared with us the challenges that she and her mother have had to face as women in a predominantly, patriarchal society. With pride, she describes the hard work and sacrifices that her mother had to endure in order to provide for both her and her brother. While running her own business, an occupation rarely adopted by women in Algeria, her mother, the sole breadwinner of the family, worked from home; allowing her to be both a present mother and a provider. While most mothers in her circumstance would have been satisfied with simply providing her family with the basic necessities of life, Meryem’s mother not only encouraged her children to pursue their education, but also tried, to the best of her ability, to give her children the opportunity to cultivate their life’s passions. For Meryem it was clear, from a very young age, that music was going to an important part of her life, and in an unforeseeable twist of events, it was music that finally forced her to leave her home country, and, as fate would have it, it was music that helped her find a new home in Canada.
While Meryem was still very young, the political situation in Algeria in the late 1990s had become unstable and anyone who opposed, either directly or indirectly, the violence in the country was placed under close guard. After singing a song that promoted peace on national television, a song that directly opposed the violence at the time, Meryem and her mother’s lives were seriously in danger. It became clear, very quickly, that they needed to leave the country. As women, they had to tread very carefully to secure papers that would allow them to exit the country. Unable to sign travel documents on their own as women, Meryem went as far as to forge the signature of her father in order to obtain a travel visa for her and her mother. Working as a team, as they always have, Meryem and her mother secured tickets to France. After a few months in France, they travelled to Canada where they eventually made a claim for refugee status. After several months of what can only be described as an emotionally gruelling process, it was eventually Meryem’s performance of the song that had been aired on Algerian television, which eventually convinced the judge of the validity of their claim, and through which they were finally granted refugee status.
Fast forward to the present, as we sat on her Northern African inspired banquette, approximately ten years after she first arrived in Montréal, it was clear that the memories of life at home in Algeria still remain close to Meryem’s heart. Although her life in Algeria was less than ideal and although she has not returned to Algeria since she left, it still remains an important part of who she is. That said, following this remarkable interview, what continues to stand out in my mind, are not necessarily her connections to her cultural roots, but rather the amazing bond and partnership that continues to exist between Meryem and her mother. Despite societal conventions and both economic and political hardships, what continues to move me from this life story, is how Meryem and her mother, two strong willed and intelligent women, fought for their independence, and without apology, empowered themselves to be the maters of their own destiny. And through this unique partnership, they have survived gender and economic oppression and have succeeded in starting a new life for themselves here in Montréal.
Meryem, now an active member of the Montréal community, seeks to inspire people through her music. Through her example, as one of the few female voices of hip hop in the city, she encourages young woman, like herself, to pursue their dreams by inspiring them to commit to a strong work ethic and a good education.
Inspired by her mother’s strength and perseverance, Meryem, like her trail blazing mother before her, has learnt that anything is possible as long as you work hard and believe in your ability to succeed. She continues to courageously pursue a career in music, a path that she began to walk when she was very young. And so now, as she embarks on her first professional, solo project, she is undoubtedly inspired by the strength and determination that she has inherited from her mother. With her raw talent and her willingness to work hard to pursue her life’s dream, I wish her every success and believe in her ability to triumph!
Interview with Meryem Saci
Conducted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Interviewer: Gracia Dyer Jalea
Videographer: Liz Miller