The Tunisian Woman Who Wouldn’t Stop Speaking Her Mind

20 November, 2016

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Medusa TN is the kind of Tunisian who has a lot on her mind, and does­n’t mind shar­ing it with the world, wher­ev­er, whenever.

In North Africa often the apple does­n’t fall from the tree—while it’s not unusu­al for the son of a police­man, a teacher or a fac­to­ry work­er to fol­low in his father’s foot­steps, if you’re a young woman, that’s anoth­er matter—you’re more like­ly to do your stud­ies and get mar­ried; fam­i­ly life will come before career. You cer­tain­ly don’t barge through the door with a song or a rap. And yet it just so hap­pens that dancer and rap­per Boutheina El Aloua­di is the daugh­ter and the niece of rap­pers. At age 10 she found her­self break­danc­ing at the mosque—but I’m get­ting ahead of myself.

Boutheina was nour­ished in a fam­i­ly that lis­tened to world music and pop. Her broth­er turned her on to hip hop and break­dance around the year 2000. As she told Madame Rap, “I was com­plete­ly fas­ci­nat­ed by the world of hip hop and would fol­low my broth­er around when­ev­er he would rehearse, which was some­times in the court­yard of our mosque, as there was­n’t a work­out space at the time and the mosque was the only place that had a smooth floor that worked for the pow­er move.”

Known these days at Medusa TN, Boutheina is the first woman rap­per from Tunisia to break out on the inter­na­tion­al scene. A trail­blaz­er in her own coun­try, she came of age dur­ing the Arab Spring, so it was a nat­ur­al tran­si­tion to write lyrics crit­i­ciz­ing the Tunisian gov­ern­ment or reli­gious fanat­ics. Boutheina’s proud to be Tunisian but she also sees her­self as a cit­i­zen of the world, which explains why she titled her 2019 EP, “Cit­i­zen of the World.”

Women rap­pers remain a com­mod­i­ty whether in Tunisia, France or the U.S., but Boutheina was­n’t raised to be a wall­flower. She speaks her mind, loud­ly. “Women in hip hop are a minor­i­ty, even if there are now sev­er­al women in Tunisia who are on the scene, but they rarely get very far. I count on break­ing that rule,” she says. “I don’t describe myself as a feminist…I work almost exclu­sive­ly with men and my life is filled with men who afford me encouragement.”

In her song “Lie of April,” Medusa TN rapped about a woman who rejects her hus­band after he cheat­ed on her: “For every liar in the world/We don’t want you/We are strong women.” As Julia Neu­mann notes in Qan­tara, “Her texts touch on top­ics rang­ing from the right to abor­tion to dis­ad­van­taged orphan chil­dren and world peace.” Medusa adds, “My songs deal with all sorts of things – they are polit­i­cal, social, sen­ti­men­tal and feminist.”

Medusa TN per­forms this Sat­ur­day night in Dis­costan. More info/tickets here.

—Jor­dan Elgrably

read more about Medusa

Boutheina El-Alouadi aka Medusa in her early days in Tunisia

Jordan Elgrably is a Franco-American writer of Moroccan heritage whose work has appeared widely in the U.S. and Europe. He is the former cofounder and director of the Levantine Cultural Center/The Markaz (2001-2020) in Los Angeles. He founded The Markaz Review in 2020, which he edits from Montpellier. Follow Jordan on Twitter @JordanElgrably.

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