After a year of work, we’ve finally wrapped up our feature film Zerzura. A collaboration between Sahel Sounds and the nascent Imouhar Studio (an all purpose film/music studio in Agadez, Niger), the film is a magical journey through the Sahara, following protagonist and guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane in search for a lost city of riches. Along the way he encounters nomads, djinn, bandits, and gold seekers – a nod to our docu-realist approach to the film. While the concept of a lost desert city film has been kicking around for years, Zerzura was written, produced, and filmed entirely on location. Scenes were done in single takes, sometimes completely improvised.
Zerzura draws from our previous project Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai. Where it differs is that we really ratcheted up the efforts of a collaborative approach this time and with a much larger cast and crew that shared in all the responsibilities and direction of the final project. We were also able to incorporate this collaborative spirit into post-production (with a grant from Regional Arts & Culture Council) with Ahmoudou Madassane coming to Portland, Oregon for one month, working on translation, assisting with editing, and creating a guitar heavy score for the film.
The film premieres tonight in Portland, with screenings in Niger to follow as soon as possible. Our team in Agadez awaits patiently as we get together the budget to make a portable screening that we can take back to the city, surrounding villages, and nomad camps where it was filmed. The goal of making a film that can exist and transcend cultural barrier is a difficult challenge. There are many cultural references that do not make sense in the West, but to launch into outright exposition would be a disservice to the viewers at home. Maybe in the end, like the story of Zerzura itself, everyone sees what they want in city of gold.
We put together this little preview video for Mdou Moctar’s upcoming album “Sousoume Tamachek.” The album was recorded in Portland, Oregon, and we brought in a range of local talent in the recording, working with Jason Powers from Type Foundry and Jesse Johnson at Boomarm Nation. But the album itself is just Mdou, playing all the instruments, backup vocals, rhythm guitar, and percussion.
The full release is August 2017, coinciding with Mdou’s first USA tour – stay tuned for tour dates coming soon.
Luka Productions, known around here for his Fasokan LP and renowned in Mali for a prolific output of contemporary Malian Hip Hop is back in the studio on a new project. Bringing in a group of musicians, ngoni, guitar, percussion, synth, and computer, it’s very exciting stuff. Luka seems to be at the front of the avant garde beatmakers, forging a path that is both respected and popular, but remarkably original in execution. Electronic Malian music is not new – but the purposeful interpretation a new thing. While there are dozens of producers turned musicians, Hip Hop producers turned studio engineers, the beat-making is almost always left behind as a “indulgence of youth.” The two worlds are self contained, and music rarely spans the rift.
The group, yet to be named, has dropped a few tracks to me via Whatsapp. Mali Internet 2.0 has obviously shifted things around in the country. Just recently the government temporarily blocked social media during a government protest, attempting to intercept the role of social media communication to rally the populace. With Whatsapp on every phone, communication (in spite of Bamako’s elites) has never been easier. Media flows both ways – even writing about music, on said blog, is no longer a mystery box for West Africa, but this post alone will be shared and promoted via Bamako’s Facebook channels.
Sitting far away in Portland, I’ve been watching the progress of the session via Whatsapp, with live in-studio jams from the luka productions studio – a mini Boiler Room, while everyone crowds into the tiny studio. I scour the internet for a non-English speaking music residency (the band wants to do some work in Europe), and how best to talk about a music genre that doesn’t exist yet.
It’s been quiet around here lately as we’ve been doing this and that, but there’s still so much to share in the archives! Today’s tracks come from a mysterious cassette from Djadje, one of Niamey’s last cassette vendors at the Niger’s Grande Marche (there are two – the other vendor sells only bootleg Takamba) Djadje has a deep selection of everything ever recorded in Niger on tape. He’s one of the few people to own an original Mamman Sani cassette. And he is very reluctant to part with anything. Like most of the cassette vendors, he makes his living off dubbing.
This particular cassette has no identifying jacket or information, suffice a name scribbled “Mohamed Barky.” According to Djadje, Barky was a pianist in Niger, in the same vein as Mamman Sani (though likely much more recent by the sound of it), playing traditional compositions on a synthesizer. He passed away sometime in the last decade. There is no further information or track titles, and no one seems to know anything more about Barky. Djadje wont sell the cassette, but provides me with this copy.