Tag Archives: vinyl

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.

Hausa Party 3: the OST

Bollywood, the multimillion dollar industry of Hindi film, has a presence in the most far flung corners of the world. The prodigious output of musical film is second perhaps only to marital arts (more on this later). Nowhere is this more apparent than in the North of Nigeria, where audiences are not content just to watch films, but created an industry of their own, modeled on Bollywood. (previously and more previously)

There is something in the story that invokes the cargo cult – the influence of a culture from afar: Hindi films are imported in the 1960s by Lebanese traders and have a huge resonance with Hausa Muslim populations. Successive generations grow up in the shadow of Bollywood, watching films, singing songs, and even learning Hindi. Decades later, when the Hausa begin to experiment with film-making, they naturally turn to Bollywood – copying style, plots, and songs. Soon, an entire industry is thriving, modeled on Bollywood – replete with choreographed dancing and syrupy love ballads.

The cargo cult metaphor is not without its problems. North of Nigeria is not an island – Kano, the center of today’s Kannywood, is also the center of commerce, an ancient city of trade for the entire Sahara and Sahel. And more importantly, there is not the power difference of the cargo cult. The impetus to invoke this metaphor suggests a trend in the narrative. Cultural influence is often portrayed as a one way flow one, pouring out of the Western countries and inundating the developing world – dropping artifacts on little isolated islands, where the natives puzzle over their workings. The scattershot of cultural exchange, where trends or styles are adapted because of some unexpected resonance or similarity are more common than top down cultural imposition. Abdallah Adamu refers to these as “transglobal flows.” Examples in contemporary music abound: Cuban Salsa in Benin, Jamaican dancehall in South Sudan, or Chutney Soca in Trinidad. The old channels of communication follow the same routes of their predecessors, whether borne of colonial legacy or diaspora movement, but are filled with the products of new media and exchange.

In 2012, we traveled to Kano to research and curate a release of Hausa film music and meet with the film stars, directors, and musicians in pursuit of this Bollywood theme. And it’s true that even today, you can still watch a Bollywood film at the old cinemas of Kano every Friday. Yet when posing the question of Indian influence, artists were quick to distance themselves. Today, Kannywood thrives as an entity apart from the old Bollywood films. Contemporary soundtracks are a sound that is both unique and stylized, with over the top Autotuned vocals and rhythmic pulse of programmed drums and hi-hats (the signature sound – this is where Mdou Moctar recorded his demo).

While long captivated by Youtube clips that showcase Bollywood style dance, after traveling to Kano it became apparent that the music has forged its own style and a prodigious output of its own. In the age of digital compositions, most artists did not have original masters, and often entire songs had been erased from history. Musician Abubakar Sani, when asked about how many songs he made, told us “5000, 3000 of them hits.” Of these 5000, we could only find about one hundred. Today’s Hausa film music is its own entity and sound – one of the many genres thriving in a globalized world and a strong argument against the perceived homogenization of connectivity, which after all, has always existed.

“Harafin So: Bollywood Inspired Film Music from Hausa Nigeria” is now available on LP and CD from Sahel Sounds and Little Axe records. Grab a copy at the shop or from Little Axe. Also available at bandcamp.

And very special thanks to Carmen McCain who helped make this whole project possible!

don’t silence your cellphones.





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Music from Saharan Cellphones: Volume 2 is finally on vinyl! The album draws from material from both of the first two cassettes – from hi-energy Moroccan Raï, desert ishumar guitar, Sonrai rap from Northern Mali, to yet to be named genres like “Tuareg Autotune”. Production of the release was an effort in itself, involving tracking down the artists via Facebook, Youtube, and trips back to the Sahel (see previously), followed by a kickstarter campaign to fund manufacturing costs.

The music on the disc was originally collected in Kidal in 2010, tunes circulating on the unofficial “cellphone network” of Bluetooth exchanges and mp3 trades. Since then, many speculated that internet would wash over the desert rendering the peer to peer transfers of cellphone exchanges inútil. Instead, a more sinister force of religious of extremists have spelled an end to cellphone music – banning any non-Koranic mp3s on cellphones. Northerners are holding their breath waiting for the sandstorm to pass.

In the meantime, and with a big F-U to the extremists up North, we’re celebrating Saharan Cellphone music with two LP release parties. First, in Portland, Oregon this Saturday, Jan. 5th @ Sengatera Ethiopian Restaurant – joining forces with the super-team of Gulls, E3, and Monkeytek. Then, next week on Jan. 10th, Sahel Sounds will be in Los Angeles at Ooga Booga, with an armful of records and a dj set!

Portland Release Party, Jan. 5th @ Sengatera

Los Angeles Release, Jan. 10th @ Ooga Booga

Though the record wont be dropping until this weekend, you can buy the vinyl direct from me via Paypal, here! Selling for low price of $12 (for stores looking for multiple copies, check your favorite distro). Digital downloads are available at bandcamp.





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Saphire D’Or

Ahmed Vall operates a small record store in Nouakchott, Mauritania. It’s called the “Saphire D’Or”, but there’s no sign, and the name isn’t displayed anywhere — save the records themselves, a faded stamp amidst the mold eaten, dusty stacks. A pair of double metal doors exit the blinding, exhaust choked streets of the capital, the taxis and foot traffic, the blaring horns, for the cavernous dark shop. Records line the walls, faded jackets, a collectors treasure – ancient Senegalese Salsa bands from Dakar, ephemeral Malan Kora, fuzzy guitar Mauritanian 7″s. This is old music, but in the Saphire D’Or, the grooves speak not of rarity or obscurity, but of nostalgia and youth.

After the first few hours of sunlight have awakened the city, Ahmed spends the day in his store accompanied by a regular crew of friends. Like the records, these friends who pass by throughout the day, sitting at the plush chairs and drinking tea or lounging on a couch behind the counter have been together since childhood. Ahmed was born in Nema, far in the East, when it took six days travel to the capital. But he eventually settled in Nouakchott, like most who fled the drought and hardships of the countryside, opening his record store in 1979. Not content with simply selling records, Ahmed was also one of the first DJs. With a steady supply of music from Mali and Senegal, Ahmed animated the dances and soirees of the young city at places like the Maison de Jeune, Hotel Palmeri, and Hotel Chinguetti.

The town has grown since 1979. The store (music vendors are known as “standards” here) sits in Medina Trois, once the edge of a town that has since engulfed it. And no one buys records anymore. Like most record stores in West Africa, they are not even for sale. Since the advent of cassette recording Ahmed has made his living making dubs of records or selling mixtapes. Those seeking, for example, a Star Band record can come to the shop, find a record, and place an order. Later that day, for a meager 500 Ougiya (or roughly 3 dollars), a cassette will be waiting.

But recently, even the cassette market is waning. Ahmed has bought a computer and a few portable hard drives. More customers are arriving with memory cards in hand. And the most enthusiastic clients, the taxi drivers, running into the store with battered vehicles idling out front, have almost unilaterally switched from cassettes to USB FM transmitters — small portable hard drives that power into cigarette lighters and broadcast on a short range FM signal. Ahmed is well prepared, and recently purchased turntables that have USB ports and can record directly to digital.

On a recent journey, I asked Ahmed to make me a custom mix tape. We shuffled through piles of old Zaire 45s, Nigerian funk LPs, and Dakar Salsa, picking out some of his favorite tracks. The cover photo was taken at “Mondiale Photo”, one of Nouakchott’s still functioning portrait studios. It’s of Ahmed Vall (with the guitar) and his friends in the Nouakchott of 1979, a time never too distant in the Saphire D’Or.

Tracklist:

Side A
Star Band – Makaki
Amara Touré – N’Niyo
Pierre Akendengue – Nkere
Orchestre Afrisa – Aon Aon
Sam Mangwana – Trinity
Sekou Diabate – Montagne

Side B
Sonny Okosun – Fire in Soweto
Prince Nico – Sweet Mother
Orchestre Les Kamale – Ngali
Ikenga Super Stars – Ikenga in Africa
Orchestre Kiam – Yoyowe
Western Jazz Band – Rosa
Ernesto Djedje – Lola

Saphire D’Or Mixtape – mediafire