Category Archives: mauritania

it takes two – waande kadde & top wzn

waande kadde & top wzn

Starting off this new year with two new releases: Waande Kadde, dreamy acoustic Pulaar music from the villages of Fouta Toro, and Top WZN, synth, drum machines, and electric tidnit from the capital city of Mauritania. While they are immediately sonically different, they bear more similarities than one may suspect. Both are from the extreme West of the Sahel, geographically miles away. Both are improvisational sessions performed and recorded without any preparation. And both involve the meeting of the traditional and the modern, and the emergent new sounds that come from this encounter.

Tidiane Thiam’s and Amadou Binta Konte’s Waande Kadde, was recorded in the village by the same name – a tiny burg on the banks of the winding Senegal River, on the island of Morfil, in the extreme North of Senegal. Amadou Binta Konté is a fisherman, not a griot, but nevertheless plays the hoddu – a variant of the traditional lute found throughout West Africa. In Fouta Toro, the body of the hoddu is carved out of wood and goat or sheep skin is stretched over the resonator. The “strings” are made of braided nylon fishing line, and attached to the neck with small strips of leather. Tidiane Thiam, guitarist of the group Lewlewal de Podor, plays acoustic guitar modeled on the hoddu.

Guitar songs are played in a major scale (in contrast to the pentatonic scale of Northern Mali) in traditional Pulaar and Manding tunings. There is a common technique of playing with octaves and doubling. The contemporary guitar of Tidiane, while embodied in a different instrument, is very much bound to its predecessor, and nowhere is this more apparent than hearing them together. For our recordings in 2014, we traveled to Waande Kadde to sit with the two musicians in person. This is not the first time the two had played together, yet the music was improvisational. While both Amadou and Tidiane use different instruments, they play within the “folkloric” base, a wide repertoire of traditional songs that are shared across Senegal, Gambia, Mali, and Niger.

TOP WZN is a far cry from the mellow sounds of Waande Kadde – though geographically, it is only a stones throw into Mauritania (literally the other side of the river). The album (originally released on cassette in 2009) showcases Jeich Ould Badu and Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla, playing a signature genre of instrumental music. Known as اوزان (transliterized as “alwazan” “wezen” or “wzn”), literally translated as “rhythm,” it colloquially refers to a contemporary genre of instrumental music, defined by synthesizers, electric guitars and lutes, and electronic drum patterns. Jeich Ould Badu is from a celebrated family of griots, and learned to play music at a young age. He plays the tidnit, the traditional Hassaniya lute – modified and updated, the goat skin replaced by flattened tin, and hacked together with phaser pedals and built in pre-amps. Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla is one of the most well known keyboard musicians in Mauritania. He plays an Arabic moded synthesizer capable of the quarter tone scales adapted from the fretless strings of classical Moorish traditions.

Popular Mauritanian music is often performed publicly with large troupes of guitarists, tidnits, synthesizers, and multiple rhythm sections. But in the past decade, the influx of small recording studios and a booming cassette industry has led to artist driven productions. WZN has followed suit, and has been transformed into an established genre. The slick studio sound, warbling tidnit, and microtones of the synthesizer are an integral part of today’s musical landscape, blasting from open air music shops and taxi cabs throughout the capital.

Both releases are now available on limited vinyl and digital download.

nouakchott wedding songs

In 2011, I traveled to Nouakchott, the capital city of Mauritania to record wedding music. Over the course of six months, I went to a variety of weddings: from the luxurious, high end invitations in the chic neighborhoods of Tevragh Zeina, to the ramshackle tent affairs in far flung suburbs with names like Falluja. Through a gracious network of musicians and sound engineers, I crashed weddings across the capital.

Mauritanian music is loud. Musicians wail out microtonal praises, blasted through blown out amplifiers. Modified guitars warble with underwater phasing over impossible sounding scales. Drums are heavy and resounding and accompanied by the clatter of metal plates. The Mauritanian wedding is the premiere venue to hear popular Mauritanian music. This is not music for the bar or nightclub.

While modern instrumentation has swept across the world, in Mauritania modernity has been absorbed by a bigger pre-existing tradition, and music was reshaped. Modern Mauritanian wedding music may have traditional lutes and ancient dances, but it also has electric guitars and phaser pedals. This movement is as much cultural as it is political, intertwined with post colonial changes, equal parts cultural exchange and nationalistic isolationism. In any case, today this music is thriving in Nouakchott — a unique sound that exists nowhere else in the world.

Nouakchott Wedding Songs is now available on vinyl from our shop, with a booklet of full color photos. Digital download is also available, via bandcamp. The above video features footage used in the film “I Sing the Desert Electric.”

boiler room

Recently I was asked to put together a mix for Boiler Room’s Upfront series. That is, strictly online, not the Boiler Room in a secret nightclub where people are wiling out behind the dj. Just as well, as it’s very hard to for the uninitiated to dance the Takamba.

It’s been a very busy past year, and the blog has been so quiet as of late as we’ve been wrapping up the film, traveling in W. Africa – and continuing, with upcoming Mdou Moctar EU/Canada tour dates, and screenings across Europe this summer. But there is so much music to share: more Balani Show remixes out of Bamako, Azna’s Hendrix inspired Tahoua rock, the first Tuareg film soundtrack from Mdou Moctar, blown out wedding songs from Nouakchott, a new Amanar album and so much more.

Here is a little sampling of what is to come in 2015. Stay tuned.

end of year mix

It’s been a very busy 2014. We released a handful on vinyl releases, toured three times in Europe, traveled twice across the Sahel, and filmed the first ever Tuareg language film. In honor of things coming to an end and new beginnings, here’s a little year end mix. There are a couple of highlights from the past, but also a glimpse into the next year – with the release of Mdou Moctar’s film and soundtrack, new collaborations with Mississippi of Azawad folklore, lost and found recordings of Niger 70’s orchestras, electrified live wedding recordings from Nouakchott, and sublime electro-instrumental Tuareg synth.

Thanks again for your support!

mediafire link

Tracklist:

Mdou Moctar – Ambience
Fatou Seidi Ghali – Ilghadad
Mdou Moctar – Jagwa (live in Marseille)
Etran de l’Air – Etran Hymn
Hussein – Lebtait
Hama – Instrumental Jam
Abba Gargando – Kel Tamacheq
Yasin Nana – Timbouctou No. 1
Mamman Sani Abdoulaye – Salamatu 1997
Cheb Ziram – Issafara
Mamelon – Koumba Fri Fri (Gulls Slowed Version)
Mamman Sani – Lamru (El Mahdy Jr Remix)
Leila Gobi – Menaka
Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud – Wana L’Ancien

timbouctou no. 1

The first time I met Yacine Ould Nana was in a crumbling mansion in the posh neighborhood of Nouakchott. I was sitting on the floor recording the rambling songs of his brother when he marched in. “39th and Lexington,” he said, to my confusion, and then launched into his recollections of New York.

It was hard to see, in the flickering candlelight (the electricity had been cut), but the Nana family were once pop icons – a musical clan, sort of like the Partridges. Unlike the other musical groups in the old world, caste controlled society, the Nanas were loudly independent of tradition. They claimed to be outsiders, ancestors of Timbouctou Tuareg (the mother played the Imzad) and they regularly left the country, living in Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States. Out of this family musical group Yacine went on to have the most successful solo career. Through the 80s and 90s, Yacine was a star, with disco inspired tracks including the smash hit, “Timbouctou Number 1.”

Yacine Ould Nana – Timbouctou No. 1

By the time I met Yacine, the family had become somewhat marginalized and estranged from social circles. Yacine was remembered for once being the superstar of Mauritanian pop, but no longer performed and was often dismayed. Until we’d talk about New York. I think he would have agreed that Nouakchott was too small for him. When night fell, and the cold desert wind swept over the quiet streets, Yacine was still dreaming of something bigger.

Yacine Ould Nana passed away in June.