Alongside her singing, Malouma has also fought to safeguard her country's music, urging the government to create a music school, forming her own foundation in support of musical heritage, and in 2014 creating her own music festival. She has also been active in politics since the 1990s, when she began to campaign for more democracy. She was elected a senator in 2007, the first politician in her caste, but was arrested the following year after a coup d'état. When elections were again held in 2009, she became a senator for the opposition Ech-Choura party where she was given special responsibilities for the environment. This led in 2011 to her appointment as the IUCN's Goodwill Ambassador for Central and West Africa. In December 2014, she announced she was moving from the opposition to join the ruling party, the Union for the Republic, where she felt she could be more effective in contributing to the country's progress. Her work has been recognized by the French, who decorated her as a Knight of the Legion of Honor, and the Americans, whose ambassador to Mauritania named her a Mauritanian Woman of Courage.
Malouma Mint Moktar Ould Meidah was born in Mederdra in the Trarza Region of south-western Mauritania, on October 1, 1960, the year the country gained independence from France. Born into a griot family, she grew up in the small desert village of Charatt, just south of Mederdra in West Africa. Her father, Mokhtar Ould Meidah, was a celebrated singer, tidinet player and poet while her grandfather, Mohamed Yahya Ould Boubane, is remembered as a talented writer and tidinet virtuoso. Her mother also came from a family of well-known traditional singers. She taught her daughter to play the ardin, a ten-stringed harp traditionally played by women, when she was six.
Malouma commenced her education at elementary school in 1965 in Mederdra. She qualified as an elementary school teacher in 1974 in Rosso. According to the traditions of her country, those of the Meidah family are required to carry on the art of their ancestors. As a result, she had to give up her aspirations to teach. Members of each caste are allowed only to marry other members of society within the same caste and the entire society is divided by castes politically, economically, and culturally. Movement outside of a particular caste is forbidden. She learned to play the traditional stringed instruments only women play, especially the ardin harp, and was taught traditional Mauritanian music by her father, who enjoyed an eclectic mix of music. As a result, she grew up listening to classical western works such as Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Vivaldi and Wagner, as well as the music of traditional Berber, Egyptian, Lebanese and Senegalese artists. She often accompanied her parents who sang traditional griots.
Malouma began singing as a child, first performed on the stage when she was twelve and began appearing in solo concerts with a traditional repertoire by age fifteen. In addition to her father's guidance, she was inspired by other traditional artists including Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, Fairouz, Dimi and Sabah. As she matured, she increasingly became interested in blues music, which appealed to her as it bore a resemblance to the traditional music she knew. Malouma wrote her first song, "Habibi Habeytou" (My beloved, I loved him) when she was sixteen. It was a song protesting the tradition of men turning their wives out of their homes to marry younger women. It brought her instant recognition, but created a backlash, causing physical attacks from the established Muslim community. Soon after she wrote it, her family moved to Nouakchott, the capital, to help her launch her music career, but in the strongly traditional society, Malouma was forced to marry, abandoning singing until the late 1980s. She was later accused by her father of ruining his reputation. In addition to the criticisms stemming from her songs, she had disgraced her family by divorcing twice: her first husband had been forced upon her, while the second came from a noble family, who would not allow her to sing. Yet after hearing one of her songs, her father commented: "You have created something new and I find it touching. Unfortunately, I will not live long enough to be able to protect you."