Adouma Ousmane, musician from the court of the Sultan of Agadez, playing the Algaita.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been back in Niger working on a film project in Agadez with Jérome Fino from the Marseille based collective l’improbable. In addition, we’ve been shooting some short music segments, many of which have now been edited and uploaded – including Group Inerane, the Cure Salee, Mdou Moctar, and more, available here.
The Cure Salee is a yearly event in Niger in the town of Ingall, an hour oustide of Agadez. The event marks the occasion when the nomads come to let their animals drink the local water, supposed to possess certain qualities. To us, it just tastes salty. The “official” festival is organized by the state, one of hundreds like it. At the main event, there is a small stage, speakers, seating for the nobles, camera crews and loads of “local” tourists – Nigeriens from Ingall, Agadez, Air, and even Tahoua.
During the official event, there is another Cure Salee happening just outside. Crowds are gathered around watching the Gerewol (the “official” Gerewol will be later, in December). Circles of Wodaabe men are dressed in ornate fabrics, ostrich feathers in their headdresses, with faces painted in yellow. It is this activity that the Wodaabe are most known for – perhaps the only thing they are known for in the West. If Tuareg guitar has done something to change and modernize the image of the Tamashek, the Wodaabe are still defined by this image.
“Gerewol is really just a village tradition – something the kids do a night,” a friend explains. During gerewol, the men gather in an inwards facing circle, that slowly grows in members and expands. Tall and thin, in traditional costume (though a few young men are wearing cowboy hats), they stretch up and down, widening their eyes and mouths, showing their teeth. The music is directed by one singer, joined by others humming in a single note. Young girls walk around, turning on flashlights, looking at the legs, the clothing, the faces. There are many circles, we move about them like planets, each Gerewol circle closed to enter, all of the spectators standing on the outside. Over the tall figures of the singers, it’s hard to see what is happening inside.
On the last night of the Cure Salee, I happen upon the music of some Wodaabe women singing. Gathered in a circle as well, led by a woman named Halima who sings the refrain with a chorus answering her voice, it’s hypnotic but again, so completely foreign. I join in with the crowds of cellphone archivists and journalists from Niger television. Obligated as I may be to stand outside of the circle, I finally decide the best course of action. I take my digital recorder and throw it in the center.
Visiting Niamey, we lodge with the students from Timia. Our last sessions of recordings have made their way throughout the diaspora (previously). Haidara tells me they’ve been playing one of his songs on the radio in Agadez. We enter into a debate about the pros and cons about Bluetooth file transfers in relation to music. The next day, Ali Abdoulaye stops in for a visit. After playing around with a portable amplifier with contact mic, Ali cues up some of the rhythms one his cellphone, composed on Fruityloops. Holding it against the guitar transmits the sound, something different in the Tuareg guitar canon. “Easier then finding a good drummer,” Ali jokes.