From Mauritania: A song for breast cancer awareness

The World
Mauritania singer Noura Mint Seymali backstage in January 2013

Women's health is an important issue for singer Noura Mint Seymali. Breast cancer awareness, specifically.

Noura Mint Seymali is from Mauritania, in West Africa. And she wants to make sure women, especially women in Africa, get their annual screenings.

Noura Mint Seymali before her evening performance in Santiago de Compestela, Spain 2016
Noura Mint Seymali is pictured here before her evening performance in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in 2016.April Peavey
I had the opportunity to meet Seymali last fall before a show. She told me "I've wanted to write about this subject for a long time." She wanted to raise awareness, in part, because her mother died of breast cancer.

"I was with my mother," says Seymali, "and saw what she was going through with her treatment. I was living it with her. I went with her to the pharmacy to buy expensive medications. I was with her in the hospital. I identify with women who are going through this."

So, Seymali wrote the song "Arbina." It's also the title of her latest album

The title is a name for God in Arabic, but she says the lyrics speak specifically about breast cancer. "This is an illness that kills a lot of women in the world … so it's a message to all women to take cancer screening very seriously."

Breast cancer awareness is just one of the topics Noura Mint Seymali sings about. Even when she sings about other things, it's often personal. "Every subject that I sing about is inspired by something I feel personally," she says. "There are songs about love, about public health, about youth, peace and unity. The only subject I don't sing about is politics." 

Seymali wanted to make sure that I understood "music is above politics."

But even so, that's a bit hard to process when you consider she sings about public health, peace and unity. Maybe she feels being a "political singer" is too much of a burden.

Peace was definitely on her mind last summer at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK. Noura Mint Seymali performed her song "Richa" with members of the Syrian National Orchestra.

Perhaps it was just a chance for musicians to overcome war and play together.


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