Tag Archives: mauritania

l’orchestre national de mauritanie, revisted

Finally wrapped up an album that has been in production for over three years – which is not saying much, considering that the music had been sitting, locked away for over four decades. I first encountered the L’Orchestre National on Youtube, via a badly degraded pinkish hued clip of a very funky Mauritanian anthem (previously). Luckily I was in Mauritania at the time and was quickly able to learn the source of the “mystery video” and meet with Hadrami and a number of the musicians over the following years.

The National Orchestra of Mauritania (L’Orchestre National de Mauritanie) was formed in the post-colonial years as the official band of the young country. National Orchestras were common throughout West Africa. Probably the Malian Orchestras are the best known, but the practice began in Guinea under president Sekou Touré. A dictator with a questionable record of human rights, Touré nevertheless provided support for the arts, with music groups competing for the title. Mauritania sought to replicate this model, and in 1967 fourteen musicians from various ethnicities were sent to Conakry to learn how to become a National Orchestra.

They returned the next year to Mauritania as the pride of the country. Their songs were often political (“La Mone” for example, praising the new national currency), but sometimes folk inspired (“Seinam Moussa”). However, in every case, they were composed to be both traditional and modern – an ideal that came directly from the government of Mauritania, borne of this desire to create an independent nation that would shake out the shackles of colonialism and invoke the strength of its history. Unfortunately the hopeful government of Daddah did eventually fail, and with it went the National Orchestra.

The search for the recordings of the Orchestra have spanned multiple trips to Mauritania and many years. Young music vendors have no context for the group and older vendors simply grow quite with a nostalgic glint in their eyes. The music is nowhere to be found. While the recordings of the group were never outright banned, they had effectively vanished. The only official release was 500 copies of a 7″ vinyl record of a live performance, pressed in Beirut in 1973. What little remains of the archives of the the radio was salvaged by an engineer working in the station during the 1978 coup d’etat who absconded with the reels as soldiers ambushed the station, under orders to burn everything (the National Radio of Mauritania is one of the first places to be taken over during a coup – it is heavily guarded even today, giving it a certain air of impenetrability). These reels were stored in his home in Cinquième, one of the popular neighborhoods of Nouakchott, subject to intermittent flooding, where they remain today (along with the entire recorded history of the country from 1960 until the coup d’etat).

The selections of the record are all from the Orchestre National featuring Hadrami Ould Meidah between the years of 1968 and 1975. It’s available now on vinyl, in collaboration with Mississippi Records – and CD, of the latter, primarily to get it back to Mauritania where it can breathe again. Incidentally, on the back of the 7″ vinyl record from 1973 is some text in Arabic. Hadrami told me that it says to “look for the upcoming full album of L’Orchestre National de Mauritanie.” I like to think that we’ve finally fulfilled the promise, just a bit later than planned.

Bandcamp here.

Vinyl here ($12 + S/H) – or wherever records are sold:





da art of storytellin

The hodou, the traditional Pulaar guitar, is often used to tell a story. And perhaps one of the best known modern storytellers in Mauritania was musician Saïdou Ba:

Saïdou Ba – Sayglare

“Born in 1939 in Daou (in the commune of Maghama) to a circle of artists attached to the old traditional Pulaar families Yalalbe and Déniankobé, Saïdou Ba bathed since his childhood in this world of music. His father Hamady Coulo, was already a guitarist of talent and renown, and Saïdou inherited that exceptional connection that develops between the guitarist and his instrument, the mysterious relationship that makes virtuosos.

Very early fatherless, young Saïdou was sent to Wodobérè (in the commune of Matam, Senegal) where, in the shadow of guardian Madam Oumou Dia, he studied with the best traditional instrumentalists of the time. It was here that he met the celebrity Oumar Gaoulo and at age 15, in 1954, became a leading figure in the group of artists and singers known in Dakar at the time as “Lêle Groups”.

But it was 1957 which marked a turning point in the career of the already famous young musician. Radio Saint Louis (which was simultaneously broadcast in Senegal and Mauritania) launched a competition for recruitment of traditional artists, and the young Saïdou was quickly selected. That was the birth of the famous trio, Djibril Kane, San Amadou, and Saïdou Ba, who in the following years would entertain on the radio to joy of listeners.

When transferred to Radio Mauritania in Nouakchott, Saïdou Ba returned to his country and became host of the program. For his keen intelligence and his love of music, he was selected for a course of modern music in Guinea. Along with those who would compose the National Orchestra, he continued in courses in Conakry until 1969. He returned to Nouakchott, a member of the National Orchestra, specialized in backup guitar.”

Tracklist:

Side A:

1. SAYGLARÉ: A tribute to Gueladio – Hambodurion, one of the most illustrious horsemen of the Macina Fulani who was bound for strange and glorious destiny in Segou because of his Bambara and Fulani father. His name still conjures dreams to those who remember the epics tales.

2: MALISSADIO: The waters of the rivers have their mysteries. The master of the water has his world, a murky world of streaks of light, millions of fins, and the phosphorescence of millions of pairs of eyes. The Master of the waters took away the beautiful and young Mali deep in a world where death is not death but transfiguration. And Saïdou, his friend, wrote this song to mourn his loss.

3. NÉEMA: Sometimes cruel laws of nature have their logic, an obscure logic. Fortune changes place, the weak become strong and the strong live only on memory and nostalgia of the past, and songs like Neema stand on their own, and their music remains in the night like a question for the incomprehensible.

Side B:

1. N’DIAROU: N’Diarou, a praise to Oumarel Sawa-Dondi, an homage to life began on the shores of Senegal, to Gamadji, and finished on the banks of the Niger in the distance Macina. And all the Hal-Pullar who feel these notes vibrate to the glory of the sword, the most prestigious ever at the service of Islam.

2. DOMBA: The shoemaker may be a skilled craftsmen and make beautiful shoes. But what a cobbler can boast of making the best pair of shoes in time for a chorus? This was the success of the young Sylla, and in return, his sister composed this song, and the song became immortal.

3. NAKARY

(text translated from french, from: Musique de la République Islamique de Mauritanie. Commentée et interprétée à la guitare Africaine “hodou” par Saidou Ba. Sonafric. SAF 50010, 1977)

download album rip here – mediafire

Saphire D’Or

Ahmed Vall operates a small record store in Nouakchott, Mauritania. It’s called the “Saphire D’Or”, but there’s no sign, and the name isn’t displayed anywhere — save the records themselves, a faded stamp amidst the mold eaten, dusty stacks. A pair of double metal doors exit the blinding, exhaust choked streets of the capital, the taxis and foot traffic, the blaring horns, for the cavernous dark shop. Records line the walls, faded jackets, a collectors treasure – ancient Senegalese Salsa bands from Dakar, ephemeral Malan Kora, fuzzy guitar Mauritanian 7″s. This is old music, but in the Saphire D’Or, the grooves speak not of rarity or obscurity, but of nostalgia and youth.

After the first few hours of sunlight have awakened the city, Ahmed spends the day in his store accompanied by a regular crew of friends. Like the records, these friends who pass by throughout the day, sitting at the plush chairs and drinking tea or lounging on a couch behind the counter have been together since childhood. Ahmed was born in Nema, far in the East, when it took six days travel to the capital. But he eventually settled in Nouakchott, like most who fled the drought and hardships of the countryside, opening his record store in 1979. Not content with simply selling records, Ahmed was also one of the first DJs. With a steady supply of music from Mali and Senegal, Ahmed animated the dances and soirees of the young city at places like the Maison de Jeune, Hotel Palmeri, and Hotel Chinguetti.

The town has grown since 1979. The store (music vendors are known as “standards” here) sits in Medina Trois, once the edge of a town that has since engulfed it. And no one buys records anymore. Like most record stores in West Africa, they are not even for sale. Since the advent of cassette recording Ahmed has made his living making dubs of records or selling mixtapes. Those seeking, for example, a Star Band record can come to the shop, find a record, and place an order. Later that day, for a meager 500 Ougiya (or roughly 3 dollars), a cassette will be waiting.

But recently, even the cassette market is waning. Ahmed has bought a computer and a few portable hard drives. More customers are arriving with memory cards in hand. And the most enthusiastic clients, the taxi drivers, running into the store with battered vehicles idling out front, have almost unilaterally switched from cassettes to USB FM transmitters — small portable hard drives that power into cigarette lighters and broadcast on a short range FM signal. Ahmed is well prepared, and recently purchased turntables that have USB ports and can record directly to digital.

On a recent journey, I asked Ahmed to make me a custom mix tape. We shuffled through piles of old Zaire 45s, Nigerian funk LPs, and Dakar Salsa, picking out some of his favorite tracks. The cover photo was taken at “Mondiale Photo”, one of Nouakchott’s still functioning portrait studios. It’s of Ahmed Vall (with the guitar) and his friends in the Nouakchott of 1979, a time never too distant in the Saphire D’Or.

Tracklist:

Side A
Star Band – Makaki
Amara Touré – N’Niyo
Pierre Akendengue – Nkere
Orchestre Afrisa – Aon Aon
Sam Mangwana – Trinity
Sekou Diabate – Montagne

Side B
Sonny Okosun – Fire in Soweto
Prince Nico – Sweet Mother
Orchestre Les Kamale – Ngali
Ikenga Super Stars – Ikenga in Africa
Orchestre Kiam – Yoyowe
Western Jazz Band – Rosa
Ernesto Djedje – Lola

Saphire D’Or Mixtape – mediafire