Tag Archives: mauritanie

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

analog praise

context:

The sun has set by 8:00pm, the hour of sundown rarely changing this close to the equator, and the paved streets are bumper to bumper after evening salah — rusty Mercedes and aged Peugots, held together with wire and prayer, fighting along with evasive turns and blasts of the horns. Headlights bounce along the asphalt, illuminating white draas of the young men trudging along the roadside in the early evening promenade, congregating beneath the neon glow of a generic Shwarma/Hamburger fast food joint.

My taxi is piloted by a man who speaks only a few words in French or is not in the mood for conversation. We are far to the south, in one of the new and indistinguishable peripheral neighborhoods of Nouakchott. The radio plays a muddled recording of drumming and praise, accompanied by this liquefied guitar. I ask him about the cassette. “C’est Mohammed. Medeh. Guitar. Rosso.” A cool sandy wind blows in through the open window. “Zein, zein hatta!” I reply, in a poor facsimile of Hassaniya. He looks straight ahead.

We stop at a crossroads, a gas station assembled on a sandy plot alongside a road of deadlocked shuddering vehicles of indeterminable age, salt and sand eaten husks. I pay my fare with a few purple bills of Ougiya, in a similar disheveled state. And a larger pink bill: “Pour le cassette…faut me vende cas.” He pauses, looks at the bill, takes it, and ejects an old worn cassette. Smiling, he bids me goodnight.

Medeh Cassette (Mohammed, Rosso)

Medeh (previously) is a religious praise song for the prophet Mohammed, often performed on Fridays, usually performed by Haratine, almost ubiquitously performed by men, accompanied by drumming and clapping, but sometimes, as here, accompanied by guitar:

download full cassette here (mediafire link)

wedding


Blinding headlights streak by, headed South towards the river, towards Senegal. A cold wind blows. I’m waiting amongst the broken down husks of cars, intermittently illuminated to reveal oil stained sand, discarded pieces of automobiles, and plastic refuse dancing in the dark. My phone buzzes, a figure across the highway waves.

It’s Friday night, the second evening of the Mauritanian weekend, and a popular night for weddings. I’ve been invited to the edge of the town by Nouh, one of Nouakchott’s “animators”, the equivalent of the wedding dj/soundboy of the wedding scene. He leads me through a maze of darkened sand streets, an un-electrified suburb, before we come upon the bright lights and the rumbling of a generator. A white canvas tent has been assembled. Like most things here, the outside is drab and unassuming, but the interior is lavish — the psychedelic underside of the tent fabric, a patchwork of Chinese and African motifs, the intricate oriental carpets, and the women themselves, draped in the mellafa’s of vibrant pastels and shimmering aquamarines.

Nouh is one of the most popular animators for Haratine weddings. In the multi-ethnic, non-pluralistic society of modern Nouakchott, segregation by language and identity is visible, particularly in in the differences of musical form. But if there is a commonality across the modern Nouakchott, it is the role of popular performance is still tied to the celebratory festivities — most often, the baptism or the wedding. “Traditional” in mode, this is where the real earning potential lies.

“I quit school when I was 15 — I’ve been doing this ever since. I’m always busy,” Nouh explains. He’s wearing a pristine new Dolce Gabana shirt (of dubious origin) and newly pressed jeans. We sit before the Behringer mixing table. He plugs in a USB key to the DVD player, playing a selection of pre-wedding music. Wires have been cut and spliced together, jacks bricolaged together in typical ingenuity. “I’ve got three amps — the mixing table, the amp, and the pre-amps on the speakers. Have you ever seen anything like this?” he laughs. A camera man arrives in a beige suit with an antique VHS video camera with mounted light, the cable spooled and attached to his belt. The musicians stagger in, young men in large white draas, a troupe of percussionists and two tidnit players, a flurry of singers.

USB key pre music dj

After the obligatory sound checks, the mic checks, the tidnit fine tuning, the music begins. Two tbals, the massive semispherical drums found across the desert, are thumped on with outstretched hands while a metal plate is battered with sandals to creates a snare. The microphones clutched close, the vocals are clipped into robotic peaks. The distortion is something almost inseparable from the sound. It’s said the first electrification of wedding music came with the ancient, Jheich Ould Abba, the first person to electrify the tidnit. Even though electrical amps have been here since the late 70s, they play like it’s a competition, forcing the maximum amplitude out of tidnit, drums, and voice. The explosion of sound, the exaggeration and barrage of the senses, the peaking of the voices and the pounding of the drums throws the dancers into a flurry, and women clap forcefully to be heard over the roar.

Wedding – mode Karr

Wedding – mode Vagho

The festivities come to an end when a police officer arrives, as per standard, at midnight. But tonight there is no bribe to be paid, and after 15 minutes the musicians pack up their instruments and distribute the money, and we break down the sound…