Alamnou Akrouni, Fatou Seidi Ghali
Fatou – Song 1
Fatou Seidi Ghali is a guitarist – of note, perhaps, as the other woman guitarist in Niger (there are only two). Over a year prior, a photo was circulating on Facebook of her playing a red electric guitar in a festival. The photo was liked, and shared. Later, I learned that Ahmoudou from Mdou’s group had taken the photo and posted it. Fatou was a cousin from his hometown.
We travel to Ilaghadad, a small village 40 kilometers outside of Abalak. It’s the bush, but the village boasts a number of small houses and a school. There are thousands of goats. Tall, wispy grasses cover the ground. There are seasonal water holes everywhere, and at the end of the rainy season, big white egrets weigh down the tree limbs. Flowers bloom on lily pads. Camels splash through the mud. Fatou’s family lives a few kilometers from the village, about an hour on foot. We take motorbikes.
Fatou – Song 2
Fatou has played guitar for only about four years. She learned to play alongside her brother. With her two sisters, Fatou is known in Ilaghadad known more for her singing tende, the stretched water drum fabricated from a mortar, played in weddings and festivals. Even some of the songs are the same, played here on a guitar.
We sit under some trees, back from the house and away from the kids from the village that have come out en masse to watch the recording. In the quiet of the late afternoon, Fatou sings softly but distinctly. She plays the guitar, accompanied by her sisters and brother and a chorus of crickets announcing the end of the rainy season.
Etran d’Aïr – Agrim Agadez
The members of Etran live together in the neighborhood of Abana, across a wadi in the outskirts of Agadez. It was once here that the caravans stopped to rest before the journey to Bilma. Contrary to the rest of Agadez, it’s sparsely built ad tiny mud houses are scattered amongst dry spiny trees.
Etran D’Aïr is a family band. Brothers and cousins, they are all somehow related, though I’m not sure how. They’ve organized a small session at the house. The band sits on a tapi, surrounded by their material, in an almost impressive state of disrepair. The electricity comes from one of the houses that has electricity in the quartier, dropping in and out. All the small children and toddlers from the neighborhood gather around waiting for the session to begin. The band soundchecks and launches into song.
Etran de L’Aïr – or “stars of Aïr,” play a music that draws heavily from Hausa and Zarma guitar music. Though the members are Tuareg, unlike the Tuareg guitar, it is not strictly in pentatonic and is untethered from this tradition. Some of the songs have three guitars – one for rhythm and two solo guitars that mimic eachother dropping in and out of phase creating a bubbly underwater melody. The trembling solos recall more Tal National than Abdallah Oumbadougou. The lyrics may be in Tamashek, but in spirit the music is Agadez music – Hausa identity, frenetic rhythm, crashing drums.
Agadez means the “place of visit” in the Tamashek language. It’s a ancient city with origins as a crossroads and trading center. While internationally billed as a Tuareg town on the tourist circuit, Agadez is something different. It has been shaped by generations of cultural influence from the South, and Hausa culture has made an indisputable imprint. But Etran is beholden to neither. Far from famous, Etran earns their living from playing in the poorest weddings, and have played for fifteen years. Yet they are known in the Agadez, especially for the above anthem, a song celebrating their city. Uncategorizable, Etran plays music that is not Tuareg nor Hausa, but distinctly that of Agadez.
Fresh off the last tour, Mdou and the band are planning another one, with stops in Norway, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. I wont be joining them, as I’ll be back in the Sahel with the crew of Not Just Phones. Expect many updates from Niger as we wander around listening.
One of the more difficult aspects will be setting up a European tour from Niger. When internet is spotty, something as simple as printing a document can take a full day’s work. As aggravating as the process is, it may illustrate some of the problems of the digital divide, and the implications in the world of visas and (post) colonial bureaucracies.
In the meantime, here’s a new short teaser for the upcoming film:
The debut tour of Mdou Moctar and the band wrapped up last month. I’ve spent the past month since the tour thinking of how best to sum up the experience. In lieu of too many words, I’ve put together this short collaborative video collage:
In the concerts, the band brought a fierceness to the stage that electrified the audiences, and myself, even after nightly shows. On the long journeys from Sweden to Portugal, we joked at the surreal cultural chasms of Europe and Niger. And throughout the multitude of problems plaguing the journey – robberies from unknown assailants, institutional bureaucracies, and predatory businesses, we kept our heads up. Touring is not easy. We’re forever indebted to the people who helped us along the way.
And we’re continuing forward. The movie is in the final stages, and will wrap up soon, with an upcoming Agadez screening. And though touring was never the intention of this site/blog/label/project, the opportunities continue to assert themselves, and Mdou will be returning for another European tour in the fall. I’ve pressed up a small quantity of Mdou’s first album, the never before released “Anar” – 8 tracks of autotuned Tuareg guitar anthems. The vinyl will be available only on the tour, via the shop, and bandcamp:
I apologize in advance for the high price, but after a series of problems on the previous tour, culminating in a $3000 car rental bill from Sixt in Denmark the tour made no money after a month work, so we’re trying to recoup some of our costs to pay for the next one. You’re encouraged to send any and all complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org on our behalf. And be careful in dealings with the monsters of the rental car world. Here be dragons.
Tonight we begin our first stop on for the Mdou Moctar summer tour across Europe. Lot’s of dates, from Sweden all the way down to Portugal (Paris date coming soon)! For more details, check here.