Monthly Archives: December 2011

tahoultine, chopped and skyped

Mdou Moctar (pronounced “M”-“Doh”) is from Abalak, Niger. A few years back, he traveled to Sokoto, Nigeria to record an album. A curious feature was addition of Autotune, something the studio engineer suggested. The resulting eight songs, all spaced out Autotuned Tamashek guitar (quite possibly the first time ever) were never official released, but disseminated throughout West Africa through that subtle network of cellphones and memory cards. His songs, especially the love anthem “Tahoultine” (“girlfriend” in Tamashek), are hugely popular across the Sahel, particularly on the cellphones of younger Tuareg.

The Western commercial release of “Tahoultine” is a similar route of media interchange. It was featured on the “Music from Saharan Cellphones” cassette, followed by a cassette of remixes (available here), followed by an LP, and now a 7″ single. The 500 edition of 7″s features a remix by Portland producer Gulls on the flip – order/stream it here.

Mdou Moctar – Tahoultine

Mdou Moctar -Tahoutine (Gulls Edit)

Matthew David – Stealing Sahara

Brainstorm – Tahoultine (cover)

I recently chatted with Mdou and in lieu of being on site, we decided to do some recordings in the most appropriate/only available technique — via skype-out to cellphone to Abalak, Niger. Note that Mdou is playing both percussion and guitar on these recordings: a version of Tahoultine, performed live, and a new love song, “Lance of Love.” I’ll be joining Mdou in a month or two, so expect some more hi-fi recordings soon….

Mdou Moctar – Tahoultine (live via skype)

Mdou Moctar – Lance of Love (live via skype)

Moonlight in the Gold Port

Lewlewal de Podor – Jamfa

I met the group Lewlewal in 2009 (previously). I had been in Nouakchott for four months and needed a break. Driving on the road to Fouta Toro, the Northern region of Senegal, the temperature increased exponentially. It was April, and once the cool comfort of the sea is gone, the parched earth and the sun fills the void. Podor, the little town by the river, was my destination – an ancient town, but a place I had only chosen based on a whim. It was the hometown of Baaba Maal, and I thought it would be a good a place as any to find some guitarists. I met Baye Aly the second day I was in town at his business, directed by a man in a bar who told me simply to “find the barbershop”. Baye answered with a guitar in hand.

Demba Doka Barry, Tidiane Thiam, Baye Aly Ndiongue, Ahmet Ndiongue

I stayed with the band for a week that time — lodging at Baye’s family compound in the center of town, meeting his wife and then newborn child. We played guitar until late in the night, when the cool air would lift off the river and hand in the branches of the trees. There was never talk of a record, but we recorded nevertheless. Most of the sessions were used to make a promo CD to get the band a gig on the tourist boat that came to town twice a week. Later, they would be used in the record Ishilan n-Tenere.

I came back two years later, this last April, this time with the intention of producing an album. The resulting album is a week and a half’s worth of recordings that were taken on a visit back in town. Sessions made in the early morning, spontaneous moments with a guitar around tea, or late night rehearsals with a glowing amplifier in the yard, under the moon.

photo by Oumar Ly, Thioffy Studio, Podor, Senegal

The album is now available, a co-release between sahelsounds and mississippi/little axe, available on vinyl and via bandcamp. There are liner notes inside, plus a photo from Oumar Ly, Senegal’s esteemed portrait photographer shooting for over forty years. The cover is an original painting from Nouakchott sign painter Thiam Bellou.

The title of the album, Yiilo Jaam, translates to “Looking for Peace”. Podor is just that, the river and the greenery a temporary respite from the harsh Sahel, a quiet alternative to the crowded urbanity. If there is a search for peace, then I like to think that Lewlewal has found it.

Download here — for a mere $3, or pay more as you want (15% to bandcamp, remainder 60% to the band)…


Amadou Binta Konté – Simba, ma jata limi

Amadou Binta Konté has played the five stringed Hoddu for over 40 years. He’s not a musician, but a cuuballo, one of the fishermen living alongside the Senegal river as it cuts between Senegal and Mauritania. He sometimes plays in local ceremonies, marriages, and baptisms. But mostly he plays for himself and his family.

Amadou accompanied by Lewlewal de Podor

We travel to Wandekadde, as Amadou rarely climbs into a vehicle, preferring to walk on his own two feet. I ask him how he came to play the Hoddu:

One day, when I was young, there was a canoe that was passing by. Inside was a man, playing the Hoddu. I heard it and stopped what I was doing. I watched him as he drifted down the river, until he was far away, and eventually the man, the canoe, and the sound disappeared. Later that night while I was going to sleep, I heard the sound again, as the canoe passed by, playing as they traveled home.

I woke in the morning, inspired. I went into the forest to find some wood, to build a hoddu. I attached some strings. I had no idea how to play, but I would try anyways. I put the strings on, and tightened them, loosened them, tightened them, trying tunings until I heard what sounded right.

The next day, I was supposed to go fishing. In the morning, my father heard the sound and asked “Who is playing?” He ran into my room and saw me playing the Hoddu. He said, “Since when did you learn to play?” I replied, “Since last night.”

Amadou Binta Konté’s story – Pulaar

Galanka (or “Boutilimit”) is a song that sings of Galanka, a famous Pulaar warrior/hero. The song was used to galvanize warriors, to prepare them for battle. When sung, a new verse has been added at the end that references the Saharan war of the 1970’s against the Polisario — again, used to mobilize and prepare the Mauritanian Pulaar who traveled into the Western Sahara to fight the Polisario.

Amadou Binta Konté – Galanka

Amadou is featured on the new Lewlewal release, available here and on vinyl here. More info coming soon.

vinyl of music from saharan cellphones

The official release of “Music from Saharan Cellphones” is now complete! The compilation showcases some of the popular music circulating around the desert: DIY Tuareg Autoune, Balani Show street music, and Ivorian Coupé Décalé. (previously)

The LP is a selection of tracks from the first two cassettes. Available now on 2,000 vinyl copies at your nearest record shop or via download on bandcamp (download is available for $3 — 60% of the proceeds go to the artist involved, pay as much as you want, sliding scale option!)

Download at Bandcamp

Order the LP