Filmmaker: Nino Kayel

The music of the Algerian Sahara, known as Ahalil, is a form of religious praise which is also an oral record of regional heritage and a way of life for the people who live there, men and women alike.

Ahalil is mainly practiced in Algeria's Gourara region, part of "The Triangle of Fire," a desert plain roughly the size of France and the hottest place on earth. The region's capital, Timimoun, is located near an oasis and has long been a crossroads for Amazigh, African and Arab cultures.

We learned Ahalil from our grandfathers. Through practice, this tradition has been passed down across generations. This is how we protect it.

Messaouda Abbadi, Izalwane Women's Association

In 2014, the Algerian government created three new "cultural parks" to oversee and preserve what it calls the "eco-cultural heritage" of these key geographical areas. One is the Touat - Gourara Tidikelt area, which covers over 38,000 square kilometres in Adrar province and includes the town of Timimoun and the red oasis of Gourara.

"Ahalil" means "praise" and the music - which can involve the whole community, singing and chanting for several hours, with the most experienced singers continuing through the night until dawn - dates back thousands of years.

The songs can be secular, recounting tales or histories of Gourara or devotional and religious. Ahalil began as poetic music about the beauty of nature and of women, but over time it has evolved to become more religious. This mystical form is sometimes compared to the better known style of Sufi music.

In this film, we meet the musicians, singers, community members and the master instrument-makers for whom Ahalil is an integral part of life.

We hear from cultural experts about how UNESCO's 2008 classification of Ahalil as an "oral and intangible heritage" - placing it alongside diverse traditions like Tibet's Opera and Cambodia's Royal Ballet - giving it global status. Despite the pressure on traditional ways of life to change, the people of Gourara are determined to keep their valuable musical tradition alive.

Source: Al Jazeera