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Mauritanian Singer Tackles Social Problems in Legislature

Malouma, one of Mauritania's most famous "griot" traditional singers, was elected to the national Senate this year as an opposition member. She is bringing her fight against social injustice from the stage to the Senate. The singing senator goes from rapid-fire Arabic mornings in Mauritania's Senate, straight into evening band rehearsals. Reporter Phuong Tran visited with her in Nouakchott, Mauritania and brings us this report.

She is known simply by her performance name Malouma.

She says ever since she was young, she was always tempted to break rules.

She turned rebellion into a career. Her Arabic-language songs speak out against long-held social customs in Mauritania, earning her the titles of "Saharan Blues Singer" and "Rebel Diva".

Last year, she decided she also wanted to add senator to her list of names.

Malouma says she entered the campaign because she wanted to find a way to defend her ideas and to protect women's rights.

She won with a majority this past January, becoming one of six women and 11 opposition party members in a legislature of 56.

She says she can now deliver her message personally to the men in power.

In the mornings, Malouma drives herself downtown to the senate.

She enters a closed-door meeting with all men, dressed in traditional white robes with ornate designs. She wears a green and white veil.

They are discussing ways to address an accusation in local media that government officials bought a fleet of fancy new cars.

When the senate is in session, Malouma says she cannot perform as much.

But Malouma the singer has not retired.

After her meeting ends, she rushes to a rehearsal with her band. They are practicing for a music festival in Switzerland.

The divorced mother of four continues to sing about how divorced women should not hide or be ashamed. Her song lyrics still denounce hypocrisy, caste divisions and discrimination.

She says she is everything-African, Arab, woman and artist.

And now, also, senator.