Tag Archives: guitar

the peace

Niafounke is a dusty town in the North of Mali nestled along the banks of the river Niger and a few hours from the historic Timbouctou. It’s legendary in its own rite, renowned as hometown of Ali Farka Touré — a man who even in life had become myth, a figure that will loom forever in the annals of Malian music for singularly creating a sound and whose contribution to African music, or music in general, cannot be underplayed (stories of his mystical talent even echo that of Robert Johnson, Touré earning his guitar ability from a genie). Niafounke means “children of the same mother,” and the town has encouraged a generation to follow in the footsteps of their patron saint. Alkibar Gignor is a band that draws from this inspiration.

Alkibar Gignor – Zeinabou

“La Paix” (for our non-Francophone readers, that means “Peace”) consists of recordings from Alkibar Gignor taken over multiple visits between 2009 to 2011. Some of the songs were recorded at crowded rehearsal sessions at the Hotel Ali Farka Touré, the neighborhood children filling the courtyard. Other sessions are live concerts while touring through the riverside villages, playing under the starlight as an itinerant generator hums in the background. A few acoustic numbers were recorded at Amma Bocoum’s house. His daughter sings along on the title track.

Alkibar Gignor make little or no concessions to the softer sound of world music (briefly touched on previously in the self reflective conscious discussions of what it means to make music for the West), but play the raw sound of electric guitars and frenetic drums that has become a staple of the Niger bend. If Farka idealizes some myth about old bluesmen, than Alkibar Gignor appeals to a nostalgic notion for garage rock. They are the local stars, fierce at work with plans to become known throughout Mali.

For a more concise description, see the fold out poster.

The release is available on vinyl, and comes with an 11 x 17 poster — via Little Axe or your favorite record shop. You can also get it on bandcamp, pay as you want with $3 minimum, 60% of the proceeds to the artists.

Niamey by night

The bar is called The New’s. The blue and white painted walls encircle a courtyard of broken mosaic tile. The crowd pours back beer in amber bottles, men in tight fitted t-shirts and suit jackets sitting statuesque and bored or a handful losing their shit on the dancefloor. A flickering strobe cycles through all the colors of the rainbow. On the wall next to the bar, a projector broadcasts a WWF match and Big Show talks into a microphone, translated in Arabic subtitles, but there is no sound. An old electric roulette machine flashes lights. It’s slightly slanted. Every space is filled with the flooded out music of the bar band. They’re out of tune and out of step with one another. It’s Zirma rock, but it sounds like free jazz. The singer does his round of the tables, microphone in hand, singing praises to the people sitting there, who affect this passive stance as he yells into their faces and hovers over their table like a mariachi band at a Tex-Mex restaurant, waiting for his tip so he can move on to the next table. A slight wind blows and mixes the scents of cigarettes and stale beer. The waitress collects her orders and returns with a blue wicker basket full of cans and bottles. No one asks me for a drink, looks in my direction, or talks to me. The band keeps playing and I can swear the drum has no kick pedal, in any case, it’s not mic’d and it’s drowned out by the clipped vocals of the lead singer. I look beyond the courtyard where a building of concrete and rebar stands in some state of transition — I’m unable to determine if it’s unfinished or falling apart.

Orchestre Lomko Star, Le New’s, Niamey

tales of exile

Ahmed’s guitar band Amanar takes their name from the constellation Orion; by virtue of an old story, one of many about a great Tamashek warrior by the same name. As the story goes, Amanar, an grand and imposing figure, accidentally bumped into a woman milking her goats to feed her children, and the bowl overturned, spilling the milk into the sand. The warrior grabbed a handful of desert and squeezed, wringing the milk back into the bowl. The mother was satisfied as was Amanar, but the earth was furious. It promised the warrior, “When you die and your body is buried, I’ll squeeze you twice as hard for eternity!” The sky however took pity on the warrior who could never be buried in the ground, but as a consolation placed his body in exile amongst the stars.

Tuareg guitar, for the uninitiated, falls somewhere between the Berber guitar of North Africa and the pentatonic rhythms of Ali Farka Touré — invoking the now cliche image of the musician, guitar slung over shoulder and Kalashnikov in hand. Not that the picture is entirely false, though nearly always misrepresented and deformed into something else, plucked out of the desert and broadcast on the Colbert Report, appealing to a common myth of rebel chic.

The foundation of the music however is rebellion, the style was formed and refined in Libyan camps of exiled Tuaregs, and the content of the music has never strayed far from these origins — lyrics that invoke struggle and suffering or outright appeals and calls to arms. It’s particularly poignant now, as another rebellion has ignited in the North with a force not seen since 1990. The same songs that have been circulating for the past twenty years in concerts in Bamako, marriages in Kidal, or in bedrooms of Tamashek ishumar from Algeria to Niger, are again speaking with a renewed fury.

An old song by a guitarist named Hamadine — the refrain which translates to: “There’s blood being spilled, why aren’t you saying something?”:

Ahmed Ag Kaedi / Amanar – Hamadine (cover)

Amanar is Kidal’s town band. But Kidal is empty, turned battleground. The group has scattered, some in the desert around Kidal, others in Algeria. Ahmed, the band leader and soloist is in the capital of neighboring Niger.

“Now is the time to write new music. The Tuareg are in exile. This is the time to say something.” We’re sitting at the house of his brother-in-law, where not a few Tamashek families have been circulating through the past few days. Tuaregs have left Bamako in droves fearing racial attacks, and the Northern towns have been emptied as the families go into their desert camps. “A lot of people are listening to my music and telling me what I wrote came true.”

“Before I believed that all the Tamashek had the same objective,
Now, I don’t know.
One morning that surprised us in pain.
Every where I look, I see our people running away.
In whose hands are we leaving Kidal?”
– “Alghafiat”

Amanar’s song Alghafiat translates into “Peace” — but it should not be misconstrued as counter-rebellion. Rather, it’s an appeal to unity amongst the Tuareg, an end to tribalism, class-ism, and corruption in the North. It’s a departure from the old rebellion anthems with a clear enemy in the powerful Malian state. The song accuses the new ruling class of the powerful figures that operate with almost complete transparency: the well respected Tamashek elite who earn their fortunes from drug trafficking, the politicians who navigate side dealings with Al-Qaedi, and the heads of various NGOs, lining their pockets with diverted aid money. It’s a song that has success in Kidal and across Mali, “because everyone thinks it’s talking about someone else, when it’s really talking about them.”

Amanar – Alghafiat

The battle continues to rage, and the confusion of the rebellion has made it impossible to return home for the moment. Ahmed says he will continue to work, that now is the time to speak. It’s fitting perhaps, that like Amanar the warrior, it’s in exile that their message will be heard.

tahoultine, chopped and skyped

Mdou Moctar (pronounced “M”-”Doh”) is from Abalak, Niger. A few years back, he traveled to Sokoto, Nigeria to record an album. A curious feature was addition of Autotune, something the studio engineer suggested. The resulting eight songs, all spaced out Autotuned Tamashek guitar (quite possibly the first time ever) were never official released, but disseminated throughout West Africa through that subtle network of cellphones and memory cards. His songs, especially the love anthem “Tahoultine” (“girlfriend” in Tamashek), are hugely popular across the Sahel, particularly on the cellphones of younger Tuareg.

The Western commercial release of “Tahoultine” is a similar route of media interchange. It was featured on the “Music from Saharan Cellphones” cassette, followed by a cassette of remixes (available here), followed by an LP, and now a 7″ single. The 500 edition of 7″s features a remix by Portland producer Gulls on the flip – order/stream it here.

Mdou Moctar – Tahoultine

Mdou Moctar -Tahoutine (Gulls Edit)

Matthew David – Stealing Sahara

Brainstorm – Tahoultine (cover)

I recently chatted with Mdou and in lieu of being on site, we decided to do some recordings in the most appropriate/only available technique — via skype-out to cellphone to Abalak, Niger. Note that Mdou is playing both percussion and guitar on these recordings: a version of Tahoultine, performed live, and a new love song, “Lance of Love.” I’ll be joining Mdou in a month or two, so expect some more hi-fi recordings soon….

Mdou Moctar – Tahoultine (live via skype)

Mdou Moctar – Lance of Love (live via skype)

Moonlight in the Gold Port

Lewlewal de Podor – Jamfa

I met the group Lewlewal in 2009 (previously). I had been in Nouakchott for four months and needed a break. Driving on the road to Fouta Toro, the Northern region of Senegal, the temperature increased exponentially. It was April, and once the cool comfort of the sea is gone, the parched earth and the sun fills the void. Podor, the little town by the river, was my destination – an ancient town, but a place I had only chosen based on a whim. It was the hometown of Baaba Maal, and I thought it would be a good a place as any to find some guitarists. I met Baye Aly the second day I was in town at his business, directed by a man in a bar who told me simply to “find the barbershop”. Baye answered with a guitar in hand.


Demba Doka Barry, Tidiane Thiam, Baye Aly Ndiongue, Ahmet Ndiongue

I stayed with the band for a week that time — lodging at Baye’s family compound in the center of town, meeting his wife and then newborn child. We played guitar until late in the night, when the cool air would lift off the river and hand in the branches of the trees. There was never talk of a record, but we recorded nevertheless. Most of the sessions were used to make a promo CD to get the band a gig on the tourist boat that came to town twice a week. Later, they would be used in the record Ishilan n-Tenere.

I came back two years later, this last April, this time with the intention of producing an album. The resulting album is a week and a half’s worth of recordings that were taken on a visit back in town. Sessions made in the early morning, spontaneous moments with a guitar around tea, or late night rehearsals with a glowing amplifier in the yard, under the moon.


photo by Oumar Ly, Thioffy Studio, Podor, Senegal

The album is now available, a co-release between sahelsounds and mississippi/little axe, available on vinyl and via bandcamp. There are liner notes inside, plus a photo from Oumar Ly, Senegal’s esteemed portrait photographer shooting for over forty years. The cover is an original painting from Nouakchott sign painter Thiam Bellou.

The title of the album, Yiilo Jaam, translates to “Looking for Peace”. Podor is just that, the river and the greenery a temporary respite from the harsh Sahel, a quiet alternative to the crowded urbanity. If there is a search for peace, then I like to think that Lewlewal has found it.

Download here — for a mere $3, or pay more as you want (15% to bandcamp, remainder 60% to the band)…