The Tunisian Woman Who Wouldn’t Stop Speaking Her Mind

20 November, 2016


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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