Tag Archives: kidal

Tuareg Drone

There are two worlds in the Northern country. If there is any global access to Tuareg culture, it is a window into the city life: the Tuareg who live in places like Kidal, ride motorcycles, swap songs on their cellphone, and dance at the guitar soirees. But outside of the islands of infrastructure, there is another world, a way of living impossible even to the inhabitants of the city. Nomadic families are scattered across the desert, living under tents, surrounded by herds of animals that are both possessions and sustenance. Amongst the majority of families, there is no money, no electricity, no cellular phones, no transport except for your feet. There is, needless to say, no guitar. Conditions in the dry season are difficult and food is sparse. Then finally, Orion disappears from the evening sky for 40 days, and soon the rains come.

The rainy season of the Northern deserts of Mali and Southern Algeria are a time of meeting and celebrations. Nomadic families usually spread out over the parched scrubland gather around the seasonal and intermittent water holes. The animals grow fat and give enough milk to drink to exhaustion. Clothes are cleaned from months of dust and sand and children bath freely in the lakes. Every night, the air is filled with chanting and clapping as the youth play isswat.

Isswat is characterized by singing with a vocal drone. Much like the families who subsist on nearly nothing, the music is sparse and composed of few elements: voice, clapping, stomping, and the drumming on bowls or water drums. The single note drone is accomplished by a circle of men who maintain a low vocal humming while a woman vocalist sings a melody that dances over signature rhythms. (see previously)

For those familiar with Tuareg music, there is something eerily familiar to the guitar based desert rock that has come to define the folk style. Indeed, I’ve heard it said that this was the inspiration for ishumar guitar – rebel fighters in Libyan camps sought to recreate the sound of their far away home, and adapted isswat to the guitar. The guitar melody was created to mimic the female singer, the droning low note of the bass string as the vocal hum.

This recording of Idassane Wallet Mohammed was made in Kidal, Mali in 2008. The Tuareg run studio “Maison de Luxembourg” produced a handful of CDs and cassettes sold in Kidal (It has since been looted and destroyed by the Islamists who briefly occupied the town). The recordings stand out as professional/local Tuareg productions. They are love songs, songs that speak of nomadic life, songs that reference Adrar and local geography. Today, while the guitar music may reign supreme in towns like Kidal, the nomads live in world apart. Isswat is the real music of the desert.

The record is available now from the shop or via bandcamp – a collaboration w/ Mississippi Records. We’ve made 500 of them with handmade covers, a homage to the some of the motifs of Tuareg design.

Below is a video of Idassane Wallet Mohamed performing. Currently she is near the border of Algeria.

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!

windmills of your mind

Régime De La Terreur: Ansar Dine has invaded the North of Mali, imposing a Taliban style Sharia. A cut to turbaned men breaking glass, overturning plastic crates of amber beer bottles, shouting ‘Allah Akbar.” It’s vicious, yet the religious fervor seems a bit staged. They are excited, not with righteousness, but with the spectacle. They are all too aware and like goofy kids are starstruck. After all, much like the towns under Sharia, the beer bottles are empty.

In the next cut, we see a young man smashing a carved wooden statue against the ground while onlookers gather. His efforts are futile, the statue is difficult to break. The central idea is that this is an idol and prohibited by Islam. Maybe we’re meant to believe this is was forcibly requisitioned from a practitioner’s home. One of Ansar Dine, with a boyish grin, launches into an explanation: “This is a sin, we can’t bow before this statue like this.” But this statue is Dogon — it is clearly not from a home, but from one of the three or four tourist shops lining Askia Mohamed Blvd. It is as foreign here as Ansar Dine. The turbaned man again picks up the little statuette and throws it against the pavement in what is clearly an all too alluring spectacle for the camera, violently smashing a tourist trinket (an act who’s ironic metaphor is all too obvious). Meanwhile a crowd gathers; they’ve not been rounded up or forced here at gunpoint. They’ve come to watch the circus.


(source: RTBF)

Fadikanda is a popular personage in Northern Mali, a large woman with a clear and severe mental affliction but an unwavering dedication to every musical festival, political rally, and trade fair. Rumored to have the ear of former president ATT, she is allowed to wander onto a stage during a performance, her unpredictable behavior forcing the officials to humor her and the crowds to let her indulge in Quixotic fantasy. She polices the events, walking around with a stick, violently chastising children who swim around her like a school of fish, taunting and darting in unison out of her path as she lunges. With her unkempt hair and ragged clothing, she is regarded as a comedic character or a jester. In her delusion, she is providing order to the mass (her delusion is rarely tested though somewhere deep in the recess she knows her limits and therefore raises her stick only against the fearful and outmatched children.) For Fadikanda, the gathering crowds are a testament to her force, an ode to her power.


(source: cellphone, Kidal, Mali, 2010)

Fadikanda is a modern folk character, and while once limited to an existence in oral histories, she has now been transposed to the cellular phone. In fact, videos of the mentally ill populate the terrain of personal video collections: Fadikanda, the wandering minstrel “Marchand du Soleil,” or the young man from Abeibara who’s head injury inspires these long comedic poetries.) The camera and the crowd have an inspiring effect on their subjects. Much like the antics of Fadikanda, the characters of Ansar Dine can be lured into delusions of grandeur, elated by a few bored children gathering in the streets of Timbouctou with cellphones or enlivened through the lens of an international news report. Yet their actions are regarded with the mocking curiosity assigned to the mentally ill: “What will they do next?” And if one watches the video closely, it is not fear in the eyes of the civilians of Timbouctou — their presence alone refutes this — but the eyes of those watching the circus, gathering for the spectacle of the clown, the insane, the foreign zealot who smashes a wooden trinket stolen from a tourist shop with a bizarre frenzy in the street.

vinyl of saharan cellphones

The official release of “Music from Saharan Cellphones” is now complete! The compilation showcases some of the popular music circulating around the desert: DIY Tuareg Autoune, Balani Show street music, and Ivorian Coupé Décalé. (previously)

The LP is a selection of tracks from the first two cassettes. Available now on 2,000 vinyl copies at your nearest record shop or via download on bandcamp (download is available for $3 — 60% of the proceeds go to the artist involved, pay as much as you want, sliding scale option!)

Download at Bandcamp

Order the LP