Tag Archives: orchestrenational

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

The first cut is the deepest

I wish I could say that I unearthed this 7″ buried in the stacks of mold eaten records in the backroom of some crumbling record store in Nouakchott. It almost happened like that — and indeed the only surviving copies are at the backroom of some crumbling record store. But it was while searching the internet, albeit in Mauritania, for recordings by a musician and friend, Yaseen Ould Nana, that I came across a purplish tinged clip on Youtube. It was mis-attributed to Yaseen, and the spurious comments over the years provided no insight to the mysterious origins. A short taxi ride to Yaseen’s house revealed what the internet had failed. The clip in question was from the film “Terjit” and was one of the rare recorded performances of L’Orchestre Nationale de Mauritanie. The singer was Hadrami Ould Meidah, the leader of the group, a well known griot from a famous family, and the first musician to attempt a modern Mauritanian sound.

L’Orchestre Nationale was the first modern Mauritanian musical troupe. In 1967, the young president Moktar Ould Daddah sent Hadrami along with 14 other musicians to Guinea Conakry for musical training in what would be the first experiment in modernization — incorporating a brass section and electric guitars — but retaining the Hoddu and finding a particularly important place for the Mauritanian flute, the Neyfara, featured prominently on a number of tracks. Returning to Nouakchott, a town of no more 20,000 in pre-drought Mauritania, the L’Orchestre National was the band of the new country, playing in official capacity for the president in all social events, and providing a soundtrack of post-colonial aspirations.


“La Mone”, Terjit, 1973

After some searching around town, a few recordings surfaced — notably the 45. But the Orchestre National isn’t some forgotten band, and the musicians aren’t either, and the songs still circulate through the collective consciousness, immediately recognizable to anyone over a certain age. But in a story too common the analog recordings never made a jump to digital, shuffled aside into the odd corner, remembered, but misplaced and extremely difficult to find.

The said 7″ was produced in 1973 in Beirut, Lebanon. The recording was taken from a live performance at Nouakchott’s Maison de Jeune. The 500 copies were pressed and brought back to Nouakchott, completely distributed gratis within a week to the musicians and their friends. There was some talk of producing another run, a commercial product — but shortly after, war broke out in Lebanon, and the project was lost.

“La Mone” was written to inaugurate the new currency, the Ouguiya, which was unveiled in 1973. It was a bold move by the country, an independent step apart from the trend of Francophone Africa in their choice of a united currency.

L’Orchestre National de Mauritanie – La Mone

“Kamlat” (“all of them” in Arabic) uses the lyrics from an ancient poem written for one of the Emirs of Mauritania — a “grand warrior” as Hadrami explains — who’s hand had been badly wounded in battle. His doctor advised him that he must amputate but the Emir refused, and the wound worsened to a critical stage where he risked infection and death. The family, the friends, and the doctors had no recourse to persuade him, and went to the Emir’s griot, imploring him to do something. The griot composed a poem, “Kamlat,” a praise to his greatness (and the general consensus of this fact, hence, “all of them”). So content was the Emir that he conceded to his griot’s advice, and his hand was cut off.

L’Orchestre National de Mauritanie – Kamlat

* Reissue now available here at Mississippi Records! (note the spelling: “Hadrami Ould Meidah”)