Tag Archives: niger

Field Recordings from the Sahel

I recently put together this compilation entitled “Field Recordings from the Sahel.” It’s what it says on the tin. Since the inception of this blog (way back in 2009), field recording has been at the core. The term gets thrown around a lot. While much the content in our records could be considered so, they are foremost musical recordings that have been captured with a single microphone, in one take, and aim to present the music as it sounded at the occasion.

This compilation is a bit different from the label content. The recordings here are varied: ambient soundscapes of an early morning in Timbouctou, a prayer call in rural Mauritania, late night radio broadcasts of Wolof griots. A lot of what’s here has been featured on this blog over the years – the result of traveling with a sound recorder ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

Moving from blog to “record label,” the Sahel Sounds project has focused primarily on music to transmit information and commercial records to finance the work (my own research and musicial careers of our partners in W. Africa). In addition to the music, I’ve tried to use the records as opportunities to provide a little more context, using them to translate Tamashek poetry, support visual artists in Bamako, or create transcultural genre experimentation. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to step outside of the “label” context to create work not bound by the particulars of the vinyl record market.

The compilation is available streaming + with free download from bandcamp. In addition to the compilation, I produced a short book “Folktales from the Sahel,” – a collection of stories, myth, and urban legends, collected on the past decade of travel.


Troupe Ecole Tudu


I first came upon this cassette at Djadje’s market stall at the Grand Marché in Niamey in 2014. The tapes were not for sale (Djadje sells dubbed copies) so I spent the good part of a day sitting on a wooden bench in the crowded market, digitizing with a cheap walkman and ZOOM. The results weren’t pretty. Someone’s cellphone, probably my own, was sending radio interference, and the tape was distorted with staccato noise. When I heard it, I was already thousands of miles away. A few months ago, while back in Niamey, I did like any good video store patron in 1993 and left a friend’s driving license and a hefy non-refundable deposit. We brought the tape to France, digitized it, and returned it to Djadje in a months’ time.


Djadje was surprised to see the tape again. And for good reason. The tape is rare, the only copy I’ve ever seen. The recording comes from a school group from the village of Tudu, in the region of Agadez, led by a guitarist and professor Barmo. The style that would become a popular in Niger throughout the 1980s and 90s, with many similar schoolgirl groups, like the one in Tchirou (and what would go on to form the basis and genre of Sogha Niger). The guitar playing is minimal, recalling early Ali Farka Touré, answering and mimicking the lilt of the song.

The cassette also stands out with the mysterious logo and catalog number – “HASADA” – maybe something only I would obsess over. But the only other cassette from the label I’ve found was Mamman Sani’s first and signature recording that went on to become the re-release La Musique Electronique du Niger. Rumour has it that Hasada was from Nigeria, and made a few of these tapes to distribute around Niamey. He had a good ear, whoever he was.

The track here “Owiya” refers to the Tuareg greeting “O-wi-yan.” It’s an old song, from the colonial years, and implores parents to send their children to school. The performance on this tape is some 30 years later, somtimes in the 1980s, but the message is the same. And it makes a convincing argument for education, if it can turn out music like this.

I’ve reached out to Barmo and some of the surving members of the Troupe and will share more as I find out.

Radio Niger with a little distortion

radio niger

Happy 2017, and onto a new year.

Stumbled across this beautiful piece of technology in Niamey last month. The masons were busy working on a friends house, and the distorted wail was amplified by the concrete room that was slowly being constructed around it. The mason informed me that the music was “Pulaar” – the instrument here being amplified molo. There are curious levels of distortion, all layered, from the initial amplification and blown out speakers, to the cellphone recording capturing device, to the AUX in on the cheapo bootleg stereo (of the ever popular X-BASS brand so common in W. Africa).

Apologies for the silence, more coming soon.

Mdou Moctar – Sousoume Tamachek

sousoume tamachek

Mdou Moctar’s new album, Sousoume Tamachek, is now available! In the past years, Tuareg rock music, particularly that of Niger, has gotten faster. There is a preference for this new sound – both in the raucous weddings of Agadez and in Berlin rock clubs. The wavering guitar solos, rapid fire drums and heavy distortion has become characteristic of the contemporary sound.

For Mdou, this was not always the case. Self taught in a religious region that eschewed the guitar, Mdou was forced to learn music in secret. And when he did begin to play, there were no weddings or festivities. His early oeuvre was developed to play at informal private sessions with his friends. In these “takits” or picnics, Mdou and his friends would pass the lazy days together sitting under a tree, drinking tea, laughing, and singing songs.

For his new record, Mdou revisits this “music for desert picnics,” taking his compositions from his youth, and bringing them to the studio (his repertoire of “takit” songs were never recorded and only exist on warbly cassette recordings compressed into low quality mp3s). From love ballads (“Nikali Talit”), religious praise (“Ilmouloud”), to life counsel (“Amidini”), the songs are intensely personal, both in content and in structure.

Constructed around the guitar, Mdou plays everything on the album in lush layered overdubs, singing both call and response vocals, playing rhythm guitar, and drumming on the calabash. Produced in collaboration with Christopher Kirkley (Sahel Sounds) and longtime associate Jesse Johnson (Boomarm Nation), the light touch pays respect to the origin of these ballads. The result is a very different side of Mdou Moctar, that of quiet introspection, lifted out of memory for one last time.

Get the vinyl from Bandcamp and our shop.

Mdou Moctar USA Tour 2017


After many years, we’re proud to announce the Mdou Moctar USA tour! Mdou & the band will be starting off on the EU/UK, then headed across the USA, with shows on the West Coast, Midwest, East Coast, down to the South.

I first heard Mdou’s music in 2010, and finally met him in person two years later. During the first meeting we recorded his debut album Afelan. At the time, Sahel Sounds was a nascent label taking its first stumbling steps in a tumultuous and confusing music industry, so when Mdou asked “How can I tour in America?” I responded disparagingly: “We can work together, I can help your music to travel, but I have no idea how to make a tour happen, above all in the USA.”

At select screenings, we’ll be screening our film, the Purple Rain inspired Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai. But we also are talking about making a sequel of sorts, an ethnographic film from Mdou & the band as they cross America and explore what it means to tour in 2017. Maybe with a little bit of Spinal Tap thrown in. It is rock music, after all.