Category Archives: senegal

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.

starlight

On the last visit, in the fall, we spent a few days in Podor, a small colonial town that sits in the interior of Senegal on the banks of the river. It had been about two years and everyone was a bit older. A few people had passed, and a few more had been born. The city itself was more or less the same. Horse carriages crowded the center of town, coming in from all the surrounding villages on market day, but otherwise it was slow and calm. Like the river, Podor always seems still, and you have to look closely to see that things are moving.

Tidiane Thiam, solo guitarist and folklorist of the group Lewlewal (previously) had his first child during our stay. He was a father of a only few days when our departure arrived, but we managed to do something I had wanted for years – some simple instrumental recordings of himself and the guitar.

Tidiane is an artist and folklorist. An autodidact in the truest sense, he learned to play the guitar by listening to radio broadcasts late into the evening. He sometimes makes art, strange paintings of hands and symbols, and for many years he worked as an intern under the famous Podor portrait photographer, Oumar Ly. He plays guitar in the style common to Fouta Toro, influenced by Guinean styles – Hal Pulaar folklore guitar, made famous by another Podor resident, Baaba Maal. Most of the songs are played with “double gamm,” a doubling of the notes. Nearly all are played in major scales in standard tuning. The music is nostalgic and pensive, very different from the pentatonic scales associated with the desert. A little more green, perhaps.

It was our last night when we finally had a chance to record with Tidiane, and he played songs until the very early hours. Lewlewal means moonlight, but this night there was no moon, only stars.

Tidiane Instrumental 1

Tidiane Instrumental 2

Sahelsounds, the promo cd



A little compilation of recordings from the site, for downloadable and listening pleasure. Bismillah.

01 – teyti announces issawat
02 – abba – ishumar guitar
03 – girl and mother – na hawa doumbia
04 – alkibar gignor – ali farka homage
05 – tidiane – fanta
06 – sahl la guido – ndarka
07 – alkibar gignor – rehearsal
08 – kidal forgerons – abacabok
09 – halima – issawat
10 – djounhan children – beelibal
11 – bebe – ishilan an tenere
12 – ali ag mouma – takamba
13 – niafounke kids – children song
14 – m. ould mohamed – medh
15 – lala – tende
16 – nouakchott market – cassette
17 – amanar – concert
18 – soninke griot – cinquieme wedding
19 – maur griot – nouakchott wedding
20 – field recording – chinguetti
21 – habib – flute

Mediafire