Tag 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.

Uchronia


photo by Maciek Pozoga

In June 2015, we traveled to a place that doesn’t exist.

The work was semi-ethnographic documentation of travel to a fictional Bamako. Over 10 days, photographer Maciek Pozoga and I meticulously documented the real and the unreal through photo and sound. The imagined capital evolved out of discussions with Bamakois: visual artists, science fiction scenarists, traditional griots, DIY filmmakers, and modern studio producers. At the forefront was perception of Mali and its capital – what it is, what it could have been, and what it will be. At the core was the idea of travel, that feeling of being in a strange land. On this journey we looked for clues of alternate pasts, hidden in architecture, dress, song, or deep in the dreams of possible futures.

The resulting exhibition, Uchronia: The Unequivocal Interpretation of Reality will feature photography from Maciek Pozoga, a photo book, edited by Pierre Hourquet, and vinyl record of field recordings documenting the journey – available during the exhibition (and later here at Sahel Sounds). The vinyl record, “Field Recordings from Alternate Realities” accompanies the photographs as soundscape to this unrealized world. The record draws on the experience of a number of musicians, including Mamelon, Luka Productions, and Super Onze – borne out of conversations and experimentation.

Bambara Affirmations – Relaxation Cassette, Taxi

In studio with Luka Guindo, we listened and discussed mp3s of Craig Leon’s Nommos. Released in 1981, Nommos is a concept album based around the “Dogon creation myth” – a much referenced story that the Dogon tribe’s mythology was based around impossible astronomical knowledge, and that this knowledge must have come from the stars themselves. Leon composed the music New York after encountering Dogon art at the Brooklyn museum. Luka is Dogon, and I asked him about Sirius and the double star and the mysterious ancient aliens of his mythology. He had never heard of it. As ideas are filtered across cultures, they succumb to overwhelming cultural misinterpretations – coming from another place brings with it a penchant for the sensational and exotic. The questionable veracity of the myth, or even the historic veracity, is largely irrelevant, as this myth has become part of the West’s West African canon. It may well be reinvigorated as Bamakois discover Leon’s album.

Working with mythic objects is purposefully confusing. The results of this journey lie somewhere between the fiction and the real; a necessary component of realizing an idea across cultures, resulting in objects that straddle both worlds. Some of the field recordings may not be comprehensible at the moment. The Venn diagram of Luka’s contribution borrows context from Bambara speakers and Western vinyl collectors – a very small contingency. Vinyl records have an element of timelessness, only exaggerated in the presence of the fleeting digital. It is rumored that the Church of Scientology has left vinyl records of their scripture buried them in bunkers around the world – so when the surface of the planet is a smouldering crust, the survivors will come across these recordings and build an empire with their blueprint. Today’s fiction only needs time to pass into mythology.

Uchronia: The Unequivocal Interpretation of Reality runs from September 4th to October 16th, 2015 at 12Mail / Red Bull Space in Paris, France. The exhibition is produced by Red Bull and Carhartt WIP. (FB event page)

king’s crossing

Isa lies at the end of a highway, the terminus of a newly paved road laying across parched scrub land of Northern Nigeria. Geographically, it lies not far from the border of Niger, and exudes some of that qualities of border towns: the squinting stares of merchants, the turned heads as we pass by, the looks with questioning if not accusatory eyes. Soon we’re rounded up by the local police, and quickly find ourselves in the audience of the King. where we explain our mission.

The next morning, Ibrahim, the vice official comes to greet us – they’ve lodged us in a simple unoccupied house – and to deliver us to the King’s mansion. As he explains, the King has “gathered a few of his musicians to play for us.” He leads us down the long main avenue of town. It is a market day, and the street teems with anticipation. We struggle to keep up with Ibrahim, but with a hurried stride he surges ahead of us. Orbiting around us swirl an accumulation of tiny children who dance in our wake until we have assembled our own procession.

Court Musicians of Isa – Guns & Drums

Court Musicians of Isa – Horns

At the far end of the avenue lies the King’s Palace, a grand white structure with a heavy round wooden door. Suddenly, blasts of trumpet sound. We enter through the arch, where much of the town has gathered. The King has assembled not a few musicians, but all of the musicians across his domain in a carnival-esque confusion. The acrid smell of gunpowder burns the air as rifles are fired by dancers, amidst the seemingly unorganized staccato of drums, sending the two tethered horses into a frenzy. Old men yell indiscernible phrases into megaphones over the din. The display is foreign, yet uncannily familiar as some medieval trope, as court magicians in red and green patchwork trace blades across their bodies that leave no marks, dance on broken coke bottles, and swallow razor blades. In a coup de grace, the troupe of the kakakai assemble their instruments, these elongated and impossibly thin brass horns, which are pointed at the King’s house where he sits gazing from inside.

The King’s adviser calls us and asks if we’ve seen enough, at which point the festivities fold, the troupes come to pay their respects kneeling before his highness who sits on a plush green couch and hands out purple and pink Naira as befitting. We are then promptly arrested by the police who have been watching from afar – but that’s another story for another time.