Category Archives: field recordings

Agrim Agadez – musique guitare de la republique du niger

Agrim Agadez

The newest release from Sahel Sounds is titled Agrim Agadez , a compilation of field recordings of guitar music from the Sahelian empire of Niger. Focusing on guitar music throughout the country, and recorded over many years of travels, Agrim Agadez celebrates the diversity of the instrument in the contemporary Sahel.

Like most of the Sahel, the guitar is found in every corner of Niger. Whether acoustic, electric, or built by hand, guitars are highly prized possessions and continue to inspire. Every corner of Niger has particular languages, customs, and cultures, and each corner has taken the instrument and transformed it in its own special way: from bar bands of the southern Hausa land, pastoral flock owning village autodidacts, rag-tag DIY wedding rock musicians, to political minded folk guitarists. Agrim Agadez follows the sounds overheard playing on cassettes, seeking out the once legendary local heroes in their hometowns, and stumbling upon musicians in accidental chance encounters.

For readers of the blog, it’s familiar territory. Much of the music has been shared here over the years, as yours truly was faithfully updating the blog from remote cyber cafes and borrowed cellphone wi-fi. It’s also a continuation of two other records that delved into the same subject, the debut Ishilan n-Tenere, and the subsequent Laila Je T’Aime. Field recordings have always been a foundation of this work (if for anything else, an opportunity to travel!), but there is a certain element to the live recording that is hard to replicate in a controlled sterile space of the studio.

While it would be nice to claim that the record is comprehensive and academic, Agrim Agadez is not that album. This is not a record of research, but something to listen to. You can draw your own conclusions. However, it is a faithful document of the guitar as it’s heard, experienced in the open air studios of Niger with a single microphone, with backdrops of children’s voices, crickets, and village ambience. But above all, it’s a record of people who once upon a time, decided to pick up the guitar and play a song.

The record is available now on vinyl from our shop with 16 page liner notes w/ photos and bios of the bands. You can also listen/download on bandcamp.

new age bamako

image by cheick amadou ouattara & maciek pozoga

image by cheick amadou ouattara & maciek pozoga

In 2015, I had the opportunity to work on a bit of a dream project entitled Uchronia, an exhibition and recording lying somewhere between conceptual art and experimental ethnography. The process was a series of collaborative “fake” ethnographies (or ethnographic forgeries) – a very flagrant self conscious expression in a field that and hides the role of the documentarians in documentary.

Bambara Affirmations – Relaxation Cassette, Taxi

One of the more interesting recordings produced was the above titled “Bambara Affirmations” from
Bamako based Hip Hop producer/composer/rapper Luka Productions (facebook link). Modeled on the new age genre of affirmation music, the conception was a spontaneous, humorous conversation in Luka’s tiny studio, where we took clichéd and hackneyed phrases and translated them into Bambara (“you are transforming into a butterfly,” etc). The resultant track was mixed into a field recording and conjured scene: a stressed out Bamako taxi driver, gridlocked in stifling humidity of the fast growing riverside metropolis, concentrating on the soothing voice on the cassette.

Luka – new test track

Recently I proposed Luka to make a full album similar to the recording, based around the previous artifact, but further extrapolated. The first tracks have begun to trickle in via Whatsapp and Wetransfer, now to be mixed and mastered. They are at once familiar to Mali, lying between the measured griot speaking over a looping melody to the the verbal wordplay of contemporary Bamako Hip Hop, suggesting a continuity outside of the narrative of Western Influence in Global Hip Hop.

Luka says there has been a curious reaction to the songs: when he’s working in the studio, a nexus of Bamako Rap scene, many of the musicians and emcees are asking for copies of the tracks. As much as it is familiar, it is also something new – an artifact of a fake world. As we move forward into completion, perhaps they will find their way into an actual taxi, like some Borgean artifact. Will they carry forward a similar affirmation when reinterpreted by Bamako’s Hip Hop culture? Non-Bambara readership of the blog will have to remain in suspense for the moment. Stay tuned.

John Sofakole, modern folk music hero of dosso

sofakole

John Sofakole – Anashua (1989)

I found John Sofakole’s cassette in a dusty dark corner of the Centre de Formation et de promotion Musicale (CFPM), Niger’s formerly prolific center for modern music in Niamey. The CFPM once housed an active studio, and the archives read a bit like detritus of something grand and powerful that doesn’t quite match up with the vision of today. I had heard John’s name before in the stories of other musicians, but these were the first songs I had heard. As is the case with most the history of popular music in Niger, nothing is written, little is recorded, and the legacy of the artists of the past decades mostly survives in the memory of songs.

We meet up at the same center, sitting under a tree in the courtyard. John tells stories between the songs, and recounts the old days. John Sofakole, real name Abdoulaye Halidou Maïguizo, grew up in Dosso, a town just south of Niamey. It’s from here that he takes his name. In 1989, John won the Prix Dan Gourmou, a prize established a few years prior to award the burgeoning scene of “modern music” in Niger. His song was titled Sofakole, and recounted the story of a lake in Dosso, haunted by a djinn.

John Sofakole – Sofakole (2014)

Sofakole is a song about a seasonal lake near Dosso. It’s an old sacred place called Fada Bongo, an enchanted lake inhabited by a djinni. Each six months, the people of Dosso made sacrifices to the lake: chickens, goats, and all sorts of animals, preferably with black fur, would be sacrificed at the lakes edge. The meat would be shared and consumed by the people. The lake could have the blood. The sacrifice was an obligation to the lake, like most lakes possessed by djinn or Mami Wata, an observed ritual ensuring safety. In the rainy season, the water would grow into a deep lake, and if the sacrifice wasn’t made, it would swallow up whomever entered.

John’s brief rise to fame brought him around the country, joining with other stars like Ali Djibo and Guez Band, and eventually he ended up traveling abroad and performing in Japan. For most of the Nigerien artists of the “modern music,” there was a brief moment in the 1990s that contemporary music seemed to have government support and interest, particularly in the development of the CFPM, a government sponsored music institution that now is a shadow of it’s former activity..

John Sofakole – Anashua (2014)

Like the CFPM, the lake of Sofakole is no more. What happened was this: one day, the djinni swallowed up the son of a powerful fisherman. The child had traveled to Dosso for a school course, and was playing in the lake when he disappeared into the lake. The father, incensed that the djinn would have the audacity to make such an error against the son of a fisherman ordered it to leave. “And the djinni left. It’s still in the region, hiding somewhere. Today there’s no water,” John explains. “There’s some water maybe below, but not like before.”

fatou of les filles de illighadad, video

Video of Fatou Seidi Ghali from Les Filles de Illighadad, the tuareg guitar and tende duo from central Niger. Fatou is featured on the recent LP of the same name. The above footage was shot by neopan kollektiv for the upcoming film [play][record] – a story of sahel sounds.

Les Filles de Illighadad may be touring this fall in Europe, so stay tuned.

shine, gospel metal from bamako

4-4-DSC04941

For sometime I’d been on an elusive search for the West African metal musicians. It appeared that metal didn’t exist the Sahel. Enter Shine. Band leader Daouda Dao is professor at the Arts Conservatory of Bamako. It’s Bamako’s art school, with active theater courses, plastic arts, visual arts, and music – an impressive attendance of students making all kinds of amazing media. Anyone looking for a place to meet/collaborate/launch art projects in Mali needs to know about this place. But I digress. When I meet Daouda finishing up one his courses, he tells me that he’s in a metal band, and I immediately drop everything to set up a rehearsal.

Shine – Jam

Shine’s music is unlike anything else in Mali. For one, there is a Keytar in the band. Also, Daoudo plays the guitar with his teeth and Van Halen inspired two handed guitar tapping. It sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard in Mali, or even in West Africa. The range of influences are vast – blues rock, Hendrix, and the aforementioned “metal.” Perhaps it’s the driving rhythm guitar and the deadpan vocals, but I almost hear some Joy Division.

Mali is an overwhelming Muslim country, around 90% to the 1% of Christians. Churches are sparse throughout the capital city and much less visible than their brethren with towering mosques and their synchronized calls to prayer. Suffice to say, there is no problem here between religions, and Mali is a place that prides itself on pluralism. Shine is made up from these churches – each band member in their respective church band – and their music contains a religious message. Perhaps because of this status as religious/musical minority the band is less bound to the more popular sound in Mali, and can experiment in the fringes. Into Metal.

We record the session at a church in Sabalibougou, a suburb of Bamako. The wide space and arching metal roof distorts the sound into a reverb oblivion – not an ideal venue. It would sound better with a full church, but it’s empty for now. After five songs or so, everyone quickly departs for their other bands, choirs, and jobs. I’m not sure what I heard, but I want more.

Shine is featured on Uchronia: The Unequivocal Interpretation of Reality

More video here