Tag Archives: takamba

Takamba WhatsApp on March 28th, 2018

Takamba WhatsApp

Takamba music is played on traditional guitar (tamashek: teheredent), with a remarkable distinctive rhythm tapped out on a calabash. It’s always accompanied by a beautiful ghostly dance. I’ve written about the music previously and released a few records. The origin of the music remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. Suffice to say that it’s a hugely popular music that ruled the festivals and weddings in the North of Mali and Niger, before it was bumped out of fashion by the electric guitar teshumara that now dominates the scene.

I first met Agali while searching for griots in Timbouctou, and he warmly invited me back to his home later that evening. I proposed to make him a recording, which he could sell on CD (later formed the basis of our 2012 release “Takamba”). The recording was punctuated with shout outs throughout – “Christoph! New York! Mali!”. Although I’ve not returned to Timbouctou in years, I once ran into the recording again. A tense moment, in rural Niger, fleeing from potential Salafists, it came on the car’s radio – a surreally comforting Agali kept sending me his thoughts as we barrelled through the countryside.

It’s almost impossible to get a takamba recording minus the shout-outs. Takamba musicians usually do not play to release music in commercial form, and recordings are organized by someone. These sessions were recorded to cassette in the past. Takamba musicians played directly into a boombox and onto tape. The tapes circulated, resold and dubbed at markets across the Sahel. The format on the recordings is always the same. After a sort introduction (something shared with “teshumara” tuareg guitar recordings) the musicians launch into song, yet keep a constant narration about the songs, the musicians, the people present, and the person commisioning the recording. The songs become self referential, constantly reminding where, when, and why they were made.

Takamba 2011

I’ve haven’t made it back to Timbouctou for years, due to security concerns. And it’s very difficult to organize a new recording with our channels of communication. Agali, for example, speaks very little French, and any phone call requires him to walk through town to find his brother to translate. Even then, the connection to Timbouctou is fickle. And neither of them can use a computer, record songs, or have a monthly subscription to Google Drive. A few days ago I had an idea. “Do any of the younger kids at your house have Whatsapp?” Soon I was connected with his nephew, who not only has a smartphone with Whatsapp, but also speaks English. We had actually met before, he told me: in 2011, we couldn’t find a mic stand, and he had been tasked with holding the microphone. With this new line of communication, we began planning a new album.

Today, Agali sent over a recording. It was recorded today, played directly into the cellphone, and sent to me via WhatsApp. It’s recorded in the classic “cassette” format, with an introduction, explanation (in French!), shout-outs, and name drops. The new media form of takamba is evocative of the cassette (Agali even refers to it as such on the recording). The new Takamba just has the added benefit that it can just move a lot quicker, if you know where to look.

Agali Ag Amoumine’s Takamba WhatsApp EP 2018 is available on bandcamp now. It’s unmastered, not eq’ed, and preserves the format. It was recorded, sent, and uploaded today. It’s definitely the quickest we ever released a recording. It’s probably best listened to on a cellphone.

It’s a free download, but if you pay 100% of proceeds go to Agali. I think that’s called World Music 2.0.

We’ll have a new album soon, and hopefully a tour to follow in 2019!

medium and the message

Super Onze – Gao

Around the fall of Gao in 2012, I met a cassette vendor in Niamey’s grand market. For years he has sat on a bench in a busy corridor with stacks of cassettes and an array of simultaneously spinning duplicators. One of a few vendors left in a vanishing trade, a steady clientele of old men maintain the fledging business. Recorded live on tape decks, dubbed and re-dubbed, they vary in quality from slight tape hiss to degraded into a magnetic distortion. The aquamarine semi-translucent tapes are packaged in plastic cases with recycled paper j-cards. Some of them bear handwritten description, some with fine stencils, more often marked simply with symbols, as if in a secret codex.

Nearly all the cassettes are Takamba.

In the 1980s and into the 90s, Takamba rose to prominence. Empowered by newly amplified instruments, griots toured throughout Mali and Niger and takamba music and its ghostly dance became a signature of the Sahel. And then came the guitar. Circulating in the underground cassette trade, the revolutionary anthems and homesick ballads spread across the diaspora – first as strictly revolutionary discourse but soon becoming expression of popular culture. By the late 90s, guitar music found itself in respectable company, in weddings, political campaigns, and even state sponsored soirees. Takamba drifted out of fashion, retreating to its home in Gao and the sleepy Songhoi villages alongside the lazy river.

Takamba (previously), with the raw shrill guitar and the clattering percussion, continues to be played today. But most often, today’s experience is through the format of the cassette and the hundreds of sessions, recorded years ago, dubbed and re-dubbed, in disintegrating reproduction. The slightly muddied sound and persistent hush of white noise, temper the clatter and crash and buzz – defining a new signature – the Takamba cassette. The old ghosts dance under the stars, blaring out of a boombox of the shopkeeper, shaking the dying embers of that third and final tea, as the town drifts off into sleep.

Super Onze de Gao * was, and is, a Takamba super group (more info here). One of the most prolific Takamba outfits, its membership has including stars such as Douma Maiga and Yehia Samaké. One of the highlights found in the market, a cassette recorded sometime in the early 90s, has recently been pressed into vinyl. As the group never had released an official cassette, we indulged in a bit of creative indulgence to re-envision what such a release may have looked like, with screen printed covers featuring hand-drawn artwork – as the session plays with that slight background hiss of the tape, a tribute to the cassette. Available in 500 limited edition vinyl at the Sahel Sounds shop (or your local record retailer) and bandcamp.

*Super Onze is also the name of the Brazilian-dubbed version of Japanese anime show based on a Nintendo DS game Inazuma Eleven, owing to some confusion on Google.

the reuse of old objects

Radio Hanna Broadcast

Radio Hanna is housed in an old dilapidated cinema in Gao, Mali. Vestiges of the movie theater remain: rusted seats on the balcony and a giant projection screen — flanked by piles of wood, wandering goats, and a woman pounding a mortar and pestle. Families rent the various rooms in what otherwise seems to be a massive brick courtyard. Radio Hanna’s office is up some crumbling stairs in the former projection booth.

Takamba is the music of Gao. Nowhere else does the droning terhardent and clash of the calabash dominate the frequencies. Muffled by the hiss of old cassettes and the crackle of radio, the music is interspersed with the layering of vocal shout outs — the original griot shouting praises for long vanished patrons, and Radio Hanna’s MC with his secondary announcements layered on top of the old takamba, another message relayed on an old vehicle.

takamba

Agali Ag Amoumine see previously, with an album recorded by sahelsounds in 2009 — a raw session of hypnotic takamba, the traditional tuareg and sonrai music: Agali on the electrified tehardent accompanied by Alhassane Maiga on calabash. Originally distributed by cassette and cellphones, now with an official vinyl/bandcamp release!

give up the goods (just step)

Takamba is a place. It’s also a slow ghostly dance, a distinctive staggered rhythm clapped on a calabash, and a gritty distorted terhardent. “Ali” Ag Amoumine doesn’t live in Takamba, but 250 kilometers up river in Timbouctou. He’s also not Sonrai, the ethnicity credited with the creation of Takamba, though he’ll remind you that the music is something that unites the Tuareg with the former.

In 2009 I recorded a session with Ali — like most of the cassettes, he began the recording with a description of the date and the people present. There were also these continuous shout outs throughout the session, as well as “New York” (regretfully forgetting the QB). I transferred the session to a CD that I left with Ali. Returning in 2011, Ali informs me that the cassette is quite popular now. He has taken it to the local radio station, and it is regularly broadcast, and found on memory cards from here to Kidal, and probably into Niger. Just to be sure, I asked some cassette sellers if they had heard the “New York Timbouctou Takamba cassette.” They nodded.

Ali plays a lot of takamba standards, but he wrote this one. Hali Diallo is the name of a Pulaar woman from Badi-Hausa, a village near Ansongo, Mali. He composed the song for her during a celebration in Niamey, Niger in 1992. “She’s a grand patron, she bought us a lot of stuff. She gave us loads of money, new bazzin, furniture — she took everything in the house and gave it to us. We had to load up a truck to drive it all back to Timbouctou!” Helpful tips if you want to be immortalized in song.

Agali Ag Amoumine – Hali Diallo, 2011