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808s & heartbreak

Mdou Moctar – La Super

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Everything that he had earned in Libya, he gave to his mother. He had nothing left. He asked her for his old guitar that he had left there in his absence, sitting abandoned in the corner. He put on new strings and took it out to play. Two days afterwards, he left for Abalak with some new friends, but soon they had to return to their village. They liked his guitar. One week later, they called him and invited him to come and stay for awhile. They organized large picnics, sitting under the acacia trees.

There was a girl. And he fell in love with her. She would always say, "You are super." So he started calling her "My Super."

One day when they all came together, she wasn't there. He saw later and asked, why didn't you come, she said if you want to find me you know where to find me. He loved her, but he couldn't say such a bold thing. He had just arrived. The next day, she was sleeping in the desert at Toruf, at her grandmother's tent. He took a horse with his friend, Sayid, and went to the bush. He wore a strong perfume, and she knew it was him before he even arrived. There was a young man at her side, talking. The young man wanted him to leave. But she wanted him to stay. The three of them sat there in the dark. He talked to her, but the young man kept interrupting. Eventually after much deliberation, the young man left. He stayed and talked with her late until the night.

They were always together after that, everynight, during the tendes, going home just before first morning prayer. He composed his song Super: "I love you more than a big taknit with all the beautiful girls." And everything was fine. One week turned into a month.

But soon, someone came to him and told him - this girl is married, she married a student who lives in another town. Now, there was nothing he could do.

Five days later the husband returned. He told himself, if he's not a nice man, I'll continue just until she's divorced so I can marry her. He talked with her husband, who was immediately friendly. It was not what he was expecting. A few days later, he met her at night, neither of them knowing that her husband was still there. They were talking under the tent when the husband came home. He sat down, and said Hello Mdou. The girl was silent. The husband said, you should stay, I'll leave. And he left.

In the morning the husband sent a child to invite him to come to his house. He told them he would come, and tried to waste time. The child came a second time. He followed the child. When he arrived, he was met by the husband and his two brothers. They greeted him, offered him a seat, and began making tea. They said nothing. The husband said, it's necessary that you walk with me to the market, 5 kilometers through the desert. They walked the whole way. Again, he said nothing.

He realized there was nothing he could do, and he returned to Abalak. He wrote songs.

"I have a spine that pierces me in the heart, but I can't see it, and I can't take it out."

"Love has become a malady for me - the night passes without sleep, and in the morning I don't do anything but think of her."

"If the love for her had a cure, I would drink it regardless of the taste."

"My dream is to turn into a small bird to give her a kiss between her eyebrows."

He stayed in Abalak and said nothing more to her. Months later, he received the news that they were going to be married. He fled the country and went to Nigeria, traveling until the land ended and the ocean began.

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field recordings of starlight

We arrive in Tchin-Tabaradene at sunset. It’s a calm village, one of the innumerable places throughout West Africa and the “under” developed world, places that lie off the paved roads and power grids, their physical isolation a stalwart against the creeping homogenization of a single world. Between here and the highway sits a large swath of desert, scrubs and sand but for the occasional collections of straw houses and mud silos, grazing herds of cows and tiny Tuareg toddlers riding donkeys laden with water – tiny children with intricate patterns braided into their black hair. The night is filled with stars and the distant sound of radio from the last sleepy shop owner drinking his tea late into the evening, the shrill cry of night birds and clicking of bats.

After so many travels, I know where I need to be, and have almost fine tuned a method: do not seek isolation, but the places at the end of the road, and at all costs avoid the cities with their false promises – they may seem easier, but it’s a poor imitation and the hustle and madness will only drain time and energy. In the village every moment is a poem, every conversation is a story, every point of light in the veil of blackness is an inspiration. It is a richness apart from the homogeny of the city, something that approaches its own tradition of a unique modernity. In Tchin-Tabaradene, the Chinese motorbikes speak when starting in poor Chinese/British accented English, a language not at all understood here. So prized are the bikes that in order to maintain and preserve them, they are left wrapped in their packaging. Young men roar through the village on strange shapes, covered in cardboard and plastic. In their efforts to protect and preserve beauty, the hide them from everyone, even themselves.

Tchin-Tabaradene, Night

Kickstarting

Last year, we rolled out Music from Saharan Cellphones, a vinyl compilation of popular music circulating on the unofficial cellphone music exchange networks of West Africa. In the preceding years, I’ve located more artists via internet tools like Facebook profile searches and Youtube comments, as well as my travels back to West Africa (where I met Ami Wassidje, Pheno S., Mouma Bob, and Mdou Moctar). The kickstarter is now underway, with competitively priced pre-orders on the vinyl ($15 w/shipping) as well as some new reward levels (like a cellphone from the Sahara loaded with mp3s or a MicroSD card release). Expected release date is around November.

Amanar, Remixed

Amanar, the modern guitar Tuareg band from Northern Mali has been featured frequently on this site (1, 2) and numerous vinyl compilations. Their 2008 sessions, recorded locally in Kidal, are high energy guitar pop. While inspired by the preceding repertoire of guitar music, the album marked a departure from the mold of Western conceptions of Tuareg rock. Celebrated by the youth, Amanar rose to the status of town band in the desert capital of Kidal.

French label Reaktion released the sessions of Alghafiat in 2010 for digital download. This year, in collaboration with Portland label Little Axe Records, we’ve pressed 1000 copies on vinyl. Drawing on some of the original artwork for the release, the text of the album is in Tifinagh, as well as the liner notes, which were fastidiously translated by Hamza Mohamed Fofo, probably the world’s leading expert on the script.

I thought it might be time for a remix competition. I’ve been sitting on the original files, possibly the only copies since the studio was recently destroyed by extremists. The song “Tenere,” (“desert” in the Tamashek language) was a hit in the Kidal concerts. The lyrics contain inherent messages like most guitar songs, this one invoking the desert in the metaphorical sense as a place of retreat: “It’s better to be alone than with a bad friend.”

Amanar – Tenere (original)

You can download the stems here.

Remix or reinterpret, and send the completed file back (please include your name in the file). The remixes will go up on a Bandcamp EP for free download. Maybe if there’s a real great one we can talk about putting out a 7″. Please get your remix in by October 1st – you can send them via email to ckirkley (at) gmail.com. Happy remixing!