To New York City-based musician Emel Mathlouthi, AKA EMEL, the voice will always be synonymous with power. Today, she offers a timely reminder of that potency with a new single, “Souty.” Translating to “My Voice,” the song was written during the first COVID lockdown, a period in which she was both isolated and had vocal cord trouble. “The song is a tribute to my voice,” she says, “this instrument that defines all of me.” The lyrics, sung in Arabic, become a mantra for individual strength: “My voice has no limits / My voice knows no end.” Combining classical orchestration and Arabic motifs with thundering, hip-hop inspired drums, and lush, cascading vocals, the track goes beyond EMEL’s individual voice, becoming an anthem for empowerment, resistance and sisterhood.
Growing up in Tunisia, EMEL listened to everything from classical music to Celine Dion. After performing in a metal band as a teen, she discovered Joan Baez and the quiet intensity of protest songs. “I was never drawn in the beginning to Arabic music, because I thought it was too rigid,” she says. The dictatorship she was living under was more preoccupied with persecuting activists than musicians. As she explains, “Music was liberating. It had to be revolutionary.” Though she was not free to perform, suffice it to say, EMEL — who had been writing songs since age 10 — would not be silenced.
Presenting her music-as art is important to her. EMEL’s career is punctuated with eclectic collaborations with iconic artists like Alaïa and Jean-Paul Gaultier on her stage wardrobe and scoring work with Shirin Neshat, Robert Del Naja, and more recently on Assassin’s Creed: Mirage. This sense of theater is also why she’s previously experimented in electronica, goth rock, and baroque pop. Now experimenting with hip-hop and pop, EMEL’s music continues to sit at the vanguard of popular music with a combative edge.
“My father always taught me to stand for what is right,” EMEL explains, “fight for justice, and the importance of rising up.” In 2010, she was named the voice of the Arab Spring when her folk-hymnal “Kelmti Horra (My Word Is Free),” once banned, was resurrected as a protest anthem. She’d later perform the track at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo. Two years later, amongst touring all over Europe and the US, EMEL furtively played an underground concert in volatile Baghdad, Iraq, and a highly illegal, all-women performance in Iran, as chronicled in the documentary No Land’s Song. And just this past summer, she performed for Palestinians, who are the subject of her track “Naci En Palestina (I Was Born in Palestine),” in East Jerusalem and the West Bank facing backlash. “I don’t create things to be consumed,” she says. “I hope it transcends time, transcends boundaries, transcends cultures. Music can change the world.”
SOURCE: Official Bio