Tag Archives: tuareg 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.

abba’s home recordings, or how whatsapp is changing everything (pt 1)

The sand in Mauritania always carries the scent of the sea. You can tell you’re far from the iron rich dust of Timbouctou. Sitting under a tent in a wide empty space of sand and brush, dominated by hulking concrete half finished mansions, I meet with Tuareg guitarist and longtime collaborator Abba Gargando.

I first met Abba after hearing a grainy cassette playing outside of Bassikinou. Over the years we have met various times, though always near his home. This time, we are in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Abba had been here for over two years now, living between here and refugee camps in the east. Ex military, he now works as a guardian, moving his family and tent outside the houses as they are being built to scare away would be thieves.

While we are talking about “what to do next” he plays me some songs he has recorded on his cellphone. A drum machine clicks out a rhythm, while he strikes out the notes in mechanical time, singly softly. “I recorded this on my cellphone in the camps,” he explains. “It was night so I had to play quietly.”

We decide to piece together an album. The recordings are lofi – but so is Abba’s entire oeuvre; he is known today because of his music on cellphones, playing through the tiny speakers. The album could be a sort of homage to the cellphones recordings and listening, recorded by Abba. Unfortunately, he only has a few recordings on his phone, so he suggests to regroup all the youth from Timbouctou.

That night, he organizes a small gathering. We collect songs from the cellphones of Nouakchott’s Gargando-in-exile. There are hundreds of mp3s – recorded in festivals in Timbouctou, weddings in Nouakchott, or small informal sessions like tonight. Abba rewards the group with a few hours of guitar. When he starts playing, they switch on their phones, start recording, and throw them onto the floor.

I have no chance to listen to all the music until later, on the other side of the world. I make a selection and check with Abba. Five years prior this would have been arduous task – playing the songs over the phone connection, waiting for an SMS with the correct spelling, repeat. But times had changed. I send him the files over WhatsApp, to which he replies, identifying the songs and altering the tracklist to his choosing.

His final record hints and what will likely be the next phase of artists control over their own work, as it translates into the West. The role of record label/blog/writing about “the other” is as mediator between cultures, but rife with problematic issues of representation and exoticism. Holding to task the most exotic ethnography and offensive ‘world music’, it may be simplistic to think we can cut through decades of misappropriation with technology. But it does suggest the increasing role that artists may have in their creation and representation abroad – the Western mediators saying less, because it’s already being said.

timia pt 2


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.

Ali Abdoulaye – Tarhanine Tigla

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