The Institut français invited foreign professionals to discover the artist El Had Dhalani

Utende is an oral tradition, it is someone who speaks. In utende, the focus is on Man with a capital M. Man is at the centre of everything, his merits are praised.

On the occasion of the RIDA (Interregional and international meetings of artistic distribution), organised in Mayotte from May 25 to May 31 by the Onda (French National Office of Artistic Distribution), the Institut français invited foreign professionals to discover El Had Dhalani. Portrait of this artist who has devoted, for more than a decade, his life to restoring utende, the ancestral art of oratory in Mayotte, to its rightful place. 

Updated on 01/06/2022

5 min

Originally from the village of Mtsangamboua, in Mayotte, El Had Dhalani has been witnessing the slow disappearance of traditional Mahoran culture since childhood, which is weakening the social fabric of the island. The utende, a secular a capella song form that aims to celebrate individuals and their communion with the universe, for example on the occasion of a wedding, was the first victim of the arrival of television in the villages. In 1999, El Had Dhalani went to Dijon for his studies, where he attended a concert by Ben Harper. This inspired him to learn to play the guitar, and to bring the utende up to date by accompanying it with music. Originally exclusively oral, the addition of instruments and other languages, such as French, enabled him to make a name for himself and to bring utende to a new audience. 

A poetic art that is close to the tradition of eulogy, and which sometimes evokes slam culture, utende is an oral tradition that used to punctuate the life of Mahoran villages. Centred around a celebration of the individual, in the light of humanist values, it is a secular tradition that coexisted in harmony with religious rites. By reappropriating it, El Had Dhalani does not only wish to pass on this heritage to younger generations, but also to help them solve the difficulties they face in an island plagued by numerous social and security crises. He declares that it is essential today for the young people of Mayotte to "know who we are and what culture can offer us. Young people have not appropriated their culture, they have not been given the means to do so.” 

El Had Dhalani's career took off in 2008, following his victory in the "SFR young talent" competition, which was particularly well attended in Mayotte, in the "slam" category. However, difficulties linked to the local situation hampered his career for a long time. Since there was no status of entertainer on the island, he was obliged to work in different jobs, first as a shopkeeper, then as a teacher. Following the release of his first album Utende Héritages in 2017, under the banner of the group L-Had, festival dates followed. Aware of the crisis in the music industry and the difficulties the people of Mayotte might have in obtaining records, the musician and storyteller favours concerts, which are thought of as moments of communion around local culture, while offering an opening to the world. One of El Had Dhalani's main objectives is to found a utende school in order to pass on his art to the next generation. 

L-Had - Wema shoni
L-Had - Wema shoni
  • 1999


    Arrives in Dijon, where he attends a Ben Harper concert.

  • 2008


    El Had Dhalani wins the "SFR young talent" prize in the slam category.

  • 2017


    Release of his first album, Utende Héritages.

  • 2021


    L-Had participates in the Kayamba residency, between Paris and Chirongui.

L'institut français, LAB