Elsa Basil: an artist without boundaries

Elsa Basil: an artist without boundaries
Profile: Elsa Basil is an artist and musician of Palestinian and Latin American descent who has remained fiercely loyal to her roots.
3 min read
20 May, 2015
Elsa Basil [Ernesto Holland]

Meet Elsa Basil, an artist of Arab-Argentinian descent, daughter of an Argentinian painter and the Palestinian-Nicaraguan poet Suad Marcos Frech.

Basil is a singer, songwriter and painter from Nicaragua and, like her mother, is also famous outside of the art world. If she's not playing at one of her concerts in cities across the country, accompanied by her band Volcanto, she is on the move with her art exhibitions throughout Nicaragua and Central America.

A PLO scholarship

Basil studied music in Cuba on a scholarship from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Her artistic career first blossomed in 1994, when she began working with a number of Nicaraguan vocalists who believed in her talent.

The Nicaraguan artist has created her own unique style, both in the way that she sings and the issues she addresses in her music. She calls, for example, for an end to violence against women, or hunting reptiles for their skin, in addition to her more sentimental tracks.

Basil's music encompasses elements of pop, rock and jazz, and she almost always writes her own lyrics, the notable exception being when she sang an extract from Mahmoud Darwish's poetry.

In reality, the artist is closer to her Arab side than her Argentinian, but she always places Nicaragua first of all. It was here that she was brought up by her mother and her side of the family, in fact she has never been to Argentina in her life.

She would take brief trips to Costa Rica to visit her father, who was living there. For this reason, she was content to be known professionally by her Arabic surname, Basil, as opposed to her father's name, Curea.

When Basil was 12, she visited Lebanon with her mother, who was at the time connected with the PLO. They had previously moved to Costa Rica and Panama to live with her mother and sister Monica, before the 1978-9 Sandistina Revolution, which Suad was affiliated with, took place in Nicaragua.

Finding her own way to resist

Yet in spite of the countless times Basil witnessed people being trained to use arms, she managed to find her own revolutionary style through her music. Indeed, her music has been recognised throughout Central America, earning Basil a number of awards.

As for Palestine, Basil has been there just once, in 1997: a trip which gave her the opportunity to closely interact with the country's social and cultural heritage.

There is no doubt that Basil's talent is derived from her parents. Like her mother, she writes poetry to be sung. In one of her songs, for example, the lyrics are: "It's night time, but there are sunflowers" and "the mirror that lies must be broken."

When you enter her home, you are met in the hallway by the painting of an angel, unfinished, which her father began working on before his death. Basil decided not to complete the painting, hanging it up here in the forefront of the house.

In this, you sense her refusal to intrude upon her father's creativity, instead devoting herself entirely to crafting her original artistic style.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.