Easily recognisable by her elaborate head wraps and captivating stage presence, Oum el Ghait Benessahraoui, known as Oum, is a Moroccan singer of Saharan origins who blends Moroccan styles such as Hassania, Sufi and, Gnawa with Jazz, gospel and African music. A singer, composer, and lyricist, Oum grew up singing in gospel choirs and wrote her first song at 17. After going through architecture school, Oum decided to dedicate herself to music, launching her career in the early 2000s with Hip Hop and R&B inspired songs in English and Moroccan Darija. Now, she tours the world and has millions of views on her YouTube videos. Oum released her first album, Lik ‘Oum, in 2009, and in 2012, her second album: Sweerty. Her third album, The Soul of Morocco (2013), was the first to achieve international distribution, and showed a development in her music towards soul and jazz, featuring woodwinds, guitar and drums alongside oud and the Moroccan castanets, “qraqeb.”Her most recent album Zarabi, released in 2015, was recorded live in seven days, in a small trading community on the border of the Saharan desert of southern Morocco. The word “zarabi” itself means “rug” in the local dialect, and the album reveres local women who make rugs from old clothing and textiles, a metaphor for how Oum and her band merge different styles in their music. Along with jazz and soul, the album has flavors of Berber, Sahrawi, Andalusian classical, Cuban and even Ethiopian music.Oum has performed at festivals such as WOMEX and the Gnaoua World Music Festival, all across Europe and North Africa as well as in Egypt. Recently, she was set to perform in Cairo as part of the Ashkal Festival, which sadly was cancelled. Oum’s divine, ever so lightly raspy voice, which she tactfully lends to a variety of styles, makes the stylish Moroccan singer one of the more exciting and alluring artists from the region to delve into and keep on your radar.
*This article was originally published on our sister site Scene Noise.