After a year of work, we’ve finally wrapped up our feature film Zerzura. A collaboration between Sahel Sounds and the nascent Imouhar Studio (an all purpose film/music studio in Agadez, Niger), the film is a magical journey through the Sahara, following protagonist and guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane in search for a lost city of riches. Along the way he encounters nomads, djinn, bandits, and gold seekers – a nod to our docu-realist approach to the film. While the concept of a lost desert city film has been kicking around for years, Zerzura was written, produced, and filmed entirely on location. Scenes were done in single takes, sometimes completely improvised.
Zerzura draws from our previous project Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai. Where it differs is that we really ratcheted up the efforts of a collaborative approach this time and with a much larger cast and crew that shared in all the responsibilities and direction of the final project. We were also able to incorporate this collaborative spirit into post-production (with a grant from Regional Arts & Culture Council) with Ahmoudou Madassane coming to Portland, Oregon for one month, working on translation, assisting with editing, and creating a guitar heavy score for the film.
The film premieres tonight in Portland, with screenings in Niger to follow as soon as possible. Our team in Agadez awaits patiently as we get together the budget to make a portable screening that we can take back to the city, surrounding villages, and nomad camps where it was filmed. The goal of making a film that can exist and transcend cultural barrier is a difficult challenge. There are many cultural references that do not make sense in the West, but to launch into outright exposition would be a disservice to the viewers at home. Maybe in the end, like the story of Zerzura itself, everyone sees what they want in city of gold.
We put together this little preview video for Mdou Moctar’s upcoming album “Sousoume Tamachek.” The album was recorded in Portland, Oregon, and we brought in a range of local talent in the recording, working with Jason Powers from Type Foundry and Jesse Johnson at Boomarm Nation. But the album itself is just Mdou, playing all the instruments, backup vocals, rhythm guitar, and percussion.
The full release is August 2017, coinciding with Mdou’s first USA tour – stay tuned for tour dates coming soon.
Les Filles de Illighadad arrived in Europe yesterday, and have begun their debut tour across the EU! The four piece, all hailing from the village of Illighadad in the region of Abalak, plays a combination of tende and guitar music.
Tuareg guitar music as a genre is increasingly familiar outside of the desert. But the origins of the music are in the tende. The tende (previously) is a water drum, formed out mortar and pestle, stretched across with animal skin. It falls into that designation as traditional, though I would offer “village music” as it retains a dominant role, particularly in the countryside; accompanying village celebration, but also a therapeutic and curative trance inducing music.
Les Filles de Illighadad differs from the multitude of guitar bands and tende troupes in their curious bridging of these worlds. Guitarist Fatou Seidi Ghali, one of only two female guitarists in Niger in a overtly male dominated genre, leads the troupe with songs adopted from the tende repertoire – making them one of the few groups to pursue this path. After 30 some years of ishumar guitar, it’s a curious and exciting development. As the band makes their first travel across Europe, Illighadad awaits with anxious ears.
Our friends at the Neopan Kollektiv have finished up their documentary “A Story of Sahel Sounds.” The film is what it says on the tin. A few years back, the filmmakers reached out about a project to document the work of Sahel Sounds. Over the past 3 years, the film team joined us on some of the first European tours with Mamman Sani and Mdou Moctar, came along to Niger on a month long recording trip, and visited us at home in rainy Cascadia, worlds away from the Sahel.
“The film celebrates music performances by current artists from Niger and opens up a space to question our understanding of cultural exchange, musical connections and political structures. Against the backdrop of ever-growing globalization, although influenced by an unequal distribution of power, new possibilities for self-determination open up, these artists attempt to make it big — on the stage and on the mobile phones of their fans. Inspired by Christopher Kirkley’s work, the film overcomes cultural and geographical distances and offers a new perspective on a region which most of us only know as a crisis zone.”