Tag Archives: niger guitar

fatou seidi ghali, les filles de illighadad, video

Video of Fatou Seidi Ghali from Les Filles de Illighadad, the tuareg guitar and tende duo from central Niger. Fatou is featured on the recent LP of the same name.

The above footage was shot by neopan kollektiv for the upcoming film [play][record] – a story of sahel sounds.

Les Filles de Illighadad may be touring this fall in Europe, so stay tuned.

two sides of illighadad


The new record of Fatou Seidi Ghali and Alamnou Akrouni – “Les Filles de Illighadad” – might be called “traditional music,” for lack of a better word. It’s that music that fills the day to day aspect, a constant familiar sound. It’s hard to talk about, because its corollarly so clearly does not exist in the industrial centers or the so-called “Western” world. It’s rural music. It’s village music. It’s music for when you don’t have electricity, immediate Youtube access to every recorded sound. It’s music that exists when performance trumps playback. The term village music or rural music might be better, as any claims to it’s authenticity or “traditionalist” elements would be work apart. In any case, every small village its performers, sometimes traveling about for local festivities (incidentally, I met Alamnou years prior, and only realized it when assembling the record). Such is the case with “Les Filles de Illighadad.”

Fatou and Alamnou live in the aforementioned village, a tiny assemblance of mud houses thrown together in the scrubby Sahel of central Niger. I visit in the rainy season (previously), when the countryside is innaudated with still pools of water. Ghostly white egrets perch on half submerged trees, while in the distance tall camels slough there way through the muck. The latter, slow moving and giant, have something almost prehistoric about them in this context. I’m not used to seeing camels in a swamp. The desert is vibrant and green at this time of year, after the rains have parched the otherwise thirsty landscape. The desert here is cyclical, and follows a predictable schedule.

Fatou plays an old blue guitar, chipped and dried, slightly bent. The extremes of weather are not easy on musical instruments. She plays a long session, moving seamlessly from one song to another, many covers of of Etran Finatawa whose music is renowned in this part of Niger. Fatou’s guitar playing is measured and calm, and while we record outside under the trees, it is music transformed by context and place. From the vantage of far away, from a computer screen, it is easy to imagine a singular Niger, even a singular Tuareg identity. But there are many lives and many ways of living. The village of Illighadad is a world apart from Agadez, from Niamey – both major cities in their own right, dense with people, noise, and the trappings of modernity. Fatou’s guitar speaks to a different pace. The days in Illighadad are long, and time is not measured by hours, meetings, or even by the muezzins prayer call – but by the suns passage, the movement of the animals, and the sound of the crickets.

photo by Marcus Milckephoto by Marcus Milcke

Fatou insists that she doesn’t just play guitar, but plays and performs tende as well (“better!”) with her cousin Alamnou, a renowned vocalist. So at night, they assemble in the village. The “tende” is named for the drum, where two woman sit on pestles flanking a mortar, stretched with an animal skin. In a place with the absence of sound, no hum of electricity, no cars, no white noise, and no physical impediments, the tende travels far. As the village plays, people begin to come. You can see them in the distance, little lights dancing in the darkness, growing in intensity, from every direction, like fireflies drawn in from the night. Singers exchange the lead, backed by the chorus of Illighadad echoing in polyphonic harmonies, with staccato clapping, led by a deep and continuous thumping. We stay listening for hours, until the voices are weary of singing and the hands grow tired of the drums, and the crowd disperses through the darkness to find some sort of peace.

While we had some original concept to meet Fatou and record her guitar, every night was accompanied by tende. In the end, we produced a recording with two sides – each unbroken sessions, representing the two sides of the music: the mellow guitar and personal expression of Fatou, and the cooperative and constant village music of the tende. Fatou’s guitar music is remarkable in some way because of identity. As one of only two Tuareg female guitarists in what is a male dominated genre, this was indeed my initial interest in coming to Illighadad. But Fatou exists far away from genre classifications. While she plays the guitar in the day, it is the tende at night – a reminder of the village music that inspired the guitar, and continues to do so. It reads to me as a suggestion that the two musics can and do exist simultaneously. And that different worlds may as well.

The new record from Les Filles de Illighadad is available from the shop on vinyl and via bandcamp.

808s & heartbreak


Mdou Moctar – La Super

<< Everything that he had earned in Libya, he gave to his mother. He had nothing left. He asked her for his old guitar that he had left there in his absence, sitting abandoned in the corner. He put on new strings and took it out to play. Two days afterwards, he left for Abalak with some new friends, but soon they had to return to their village. They liked his guitar. One week later, they called him and invited him to come and stay for awhile. They organized large picnics, sitting under the acacia trees. There was a girl. And he fell in love with her. She would always say, "You are super." So he started calling her "My Super." One day when they all came together, she wasn't there. He saw later and asked, why didn't you come, she said if you want to find me you know where to find me. He loved her, but he couldn't say such a bold thing. He had just arrived. The next day, she was sleeping in the desert at Toruf, at her grandmother's tent. He took a horse with his friend, Sayid, and went to the bush. He wore a strong perfume, and she knew it was him before he even arrived. There was a young man at her side, talking. The young man wanted him to leave. But she wanted him to stay. The three of them sat there in the dark. He talked to her, but the young man kept interrupting. Eventually after much deliberation, the young man left. He stayed and talked with her late until the night. They were always together after that, everynight, during the tendes, going home just before first morning prayer. He composed his song Super: "I love you more than a big taknit with all the beautiful girls." And everything was fine. One week turned into a month. But soon, someone came to him and told him - this girl is married, she married a student who lives in another town. Now, there was nothing he could do. Five days later the husband returned. He told himself, if he's not a nice man, I'll continue just until she's divorced so I can marry her. He talked with her husband, who was immediately friendly. It was not what he was expecting. A few days later, he met her at night, neither of them knowing that her husband was still there. They were talking under the tent when the husband came home. He sat down, and said Hello Mdou. The girl was silent. The husband said, you should stay, I'll leave. And he left. In the morning the husband sent a child to invite him to come to his house. He told them he would come, and tried to waste time. The child came a second time. He followed the child. When he arrived, he was met by the husband and his two brothers. They greeted him, offered him a seat, and began making tea. They said nothing. The husband said, it's necessary that you walk with me to the market, 5 kilometers through the desert. They walked the whole way. Again, he said nothing. He realized there was nothing he could do, and he returned to Abalak. He wrote songs. "I have a spine that pierces me in the heart, but I can't see it, and I can't take it out." "Love has become a malady for me - the night passes without sleep, and in the morning I don't do anything but think of her." "If the love for her had a cure, I would drink it regardless of the taste." "My dream is to turn into a small bird to give her a kiss between her eyebrows." He stayed in Abalak and said nothing more to her. Months later, he received the news that they were going to be married. He fled the country and went to Nigeria, traveling until the land ended and the ocean began. >>

field recordings of starlight


We arrive in TchinTabaradene at sunset. It’s a calm village, one of the innumerable places throughout West Africa and the “under” developed world, places that lie off the paved roads and power grids, their physical isolation a stalwart against the creeping homogenization of a single world. Between here and the highway sits a large swath of desert, scrubs and sand but for the occasional collections of straw houses and mud silos, grazing herds of cows and tiny Tuareg toddlers riding donkeys laden with water – tiny children with intricate patterns braided into their black hair. The night is filled with stars and the distant sound of radio from the last sleepy shop owner drinking his tea late into the evening, the shrill cry of night birds and clicking of bats.

After so many travels, I know where I need to be, and have almost fine tuned a method: do not seek isolation, but the places at the end of the road, and at all costs avoid the cities with their false promises – they may seem easier, but it’s a poor imitation and the hustle and madness will only drain time and energy. In the village every moment is a poem, every conversation is a story, every point of light in the veil of blackness is an inspiration. It is a richness apart from the homogeny of the city, something that approaches its own tradition of a unique modernity. In Tchin-Tabaradene, the Chinese motorbikes speak when starting in poor Chinese/British accented English, a language not at all understood here. So prized are the bikes that in order to maintain and preserve them, they are left wrapped in their packaging. Young men roar through the village on strange shapes, covered in cardboard and plastic. In their efforts to protect and preserve beauty, the hide them from everyone, even themselves.

Tchin-Tabaradene, Night