Moussa Tchingou, Zone Touareg

Tchingou – Tum Hi Ho Cover

Moussa “Tchingou” Eggour is one of the most ambitious younger (under 25) Agadez Tuareg guitarists, eager for success. Raised in the midst of the Saharan internet revolution, he runs his own social media (something that the older crop of musicians don’t know how to do). He has his own Youtube channel and Facebook. He also has no qualms about autotune. The use of vocal effects and programmed beats are not entirely new in Tuareg music, attributed to proximity to Nigeria. Kader Tanout records exclusively with the effect, and Mdou Moctar’s debut release Anar is entirely autotuned (recorded in Sokoto). Of the handful of studios in Agadez, most are owned and operated by Nigerians, or at the very least, have engineers trained there.

Recently, in a nice summation of these phenomena, Tchingou sent me a video of him performing a cover of an Indian song. Tchingou explained that he’s been doing a number of covers of Indian songs. The lyrics are Tamashek but the melody and structure remain the same. Bollywood films are popular throughout the world, and Agadez is no different. But the lineage of transmission takes a few steps to get up North: Bollywood filtered to Hausa Northern Nigeria to Agadez Tuareg Guitar. Furthermore, the track Tum Hi Ho is the title song from the 2013 Indian film, Aashiqui 2 – which itself, is based on the 1954 & 1976 Hollywood musical “A Star is Born.”

In writing about Tuareg guitar, the term “new generation” crops up so much, it’s practically part of the template for every band’s written press material. It would be easy to throw shade at this nomenclature. There’s a lot of pressure (in the West) to differentiate any Tuareg musician against the plethora of other artists. But most of the time it doesn’t mean a thing. New generations come every few years, and there’s always a band waiting in the eaves to pick up third rate wedding contracts. The genre has no huge seismic shifts, certainly none led by a single band – but every year shows emerging trends, championed by artists who can take the latest tools of creation and distribution and truly transform the genre.

Zerzura Original Soundtrack Recording

Zerzura Original Film Soundtrack

In 2016, we created a film titled Zerzura. The story concerns a young man Ahmoudou Madassane, disillusioned with the pastoral life. He sets off for the city, where he learns of his brother’s mysterious disappearance. His journey leads him on an unexpected quest, crossing the perilous desert towards an enchanted oasis of gold and riches, protected by magical djinn. At its heart, Zerzura is a cautionary folktale about the unchecked desire and dreams projected onto empty spaces.

Every film could be said to be an experiment, but this project leaned heavily into chaos. Reality intervened and forced us to relinquish any singular narrative and reflect instead on the collective dream. At the end of our shoot, we had lots of disjointed footage, most entirely off-script and improvised. This wasn’t a problem. Zerzura is in effect a road movie and was produced in this manner: Ahmoudou and I, traveling on a motorcycle through Agadez and the surrounding deserts, camera in hand, filming whenever the landscape inspired us. Dialogue punctures a film that is a largely impressionistic meditation. In 2017, Ahmoudou joined me at my home in Portland to participate in the post-production. During that time, we edited the film, translated the dialogue, and recorded foley. But most importantly, we created an all original score. Taking a cue from the process of ethnofiction proposed by Jean Rouch, this score took the place of narrative voice-over, with Ahmoudou speaking with his instrument, drawing color and emotion into the silent stretches of desert.

photo Eric Schmidt, Type Foundry

In June of 2017, we stepped into Portland’s Type Foundry studio. We borrowed a projector, tacked a bedsheet to the wall, and broadcast the rough cut of the film. Ahmoudou Madassane, besides being actor and producer, is also a talented guitarist (playing with Mdou Moctar and Les Filles de Illighadad) Over three days, Ahmoudou led the creation of improvisational guitar pieces. Joined in the studio by Portland artist Marisa Anderson and engineer Jason Powers, we used material at hand: a variety of percussion, prepared piano, Moog, and whatever other instruments happened to be lying around. In the end, these pieces took their place in the background, letting the primary instrument shine: the electric guitar.

There is nothing that says Tuareg music like the electric guitar. In particular, Nigerien folk music has leaned heavily into the instrument with Agadez musicians the first to embrace pedals and distortions. In some ways, these effects had always present in the genre, albeit it an unintended consequence of maxed and blown amplifiers. While it began as political folk music, the sound of Tuareg guitar has expanded into a plethora of variations: energizing wedding parties, played while sipping tea in streetside fadas, and recorded onto DVDs / mp3s / WhatsApp. Today’s guitar music is the stuff that launches careers at home, in the diaspora, or on the Western World Music stage. On the other hand, the genre still obeys strict rules. Songs are in the pentatonic scale, rarely invoke more than a few chords, and feature a prominent single drone beneath the melody. There is a predictable and well-defined structure with refrains, call and response lyrics, and solos. While “experimental” music thrives under Western privilege this not the case in Niger. A conservative current runs through cultural production and avant-garde means something different. The opportunities to create left field art are rarely presented.

Zerzura offered an opportunity to try something new, taking Tuareg guitar into noise, drone, and ambient. This free-form session forgoes the creation of “songs,” for the creation of the soundscapes. Maybe not surprisingly, these ambient pieces were already present in the genre, hiding in plain sight. Ahmoudou developed and drew on the “practice notes” or segue that come before a song; rambling improvisations, regularly performed prior to a song to alert and cue the band for the upcoming song (This was something we previously experimented on the soundtrack to Mdou Moctar’s Akounak with the film music “intermissions”). The resulting sessions were cut down and mixed, forming the score of the film and this atmospheric recording. They featured throughout the film, but are also revisited here, as a soundtrack and new direction in Tuareg music.

The creation of Zerzura was much closer to documentary than fiction. This nefarious line between real and unreal was attacked until it simply gave up and crumbled, like the wall of an ancient desert settlement swept under by sand. We staged scenes with deadly bandits and subsequently met real bandits. We filmed in the gold fields and were accused of stealing gold. We invoked djinnis, and we were followed by a strange wind, shimmering over the dunes, rustling dried palms, and spiraling upwards into ephemeral dust giants stalking us through the wastelands. Ahmoudou’s score was raw creation as much as invocation, conjured from thousands of years of desert myth, to tell an old story in a new means. The Zerzura score is a narration that needs no words, an appeal to music that can transcend what is said for what is simply felt.

Zerzura Original Film Soundtrack is available now on LP/CD/Digi from Bandcamp & the shop.

Tallawit Timbouctou – Hali Diallo

takamba

In 1989, Aghaly and his brother Mousa left their home. A small village called Ewit, it sits just outside of Timbouctou, not far from where the barge shelters cars across the river. Their family are forgerons and griots. I’m uncertain of the difference between the two, or if there is one. In any case, when Aghaly was young, he chose the tehardine. Training in the shadow of his father, Amoumine, the two brothers left to seek their fortunes.

The brothers traveled throughout the diaspora, finding Tuareg and Sonrai and playing at weddings. They traveled through Burkina Faso, down to Abidjan, then North into Kidal. “The city was nothing then, just a generator. It was the bush! One night there was a panic in the town, a whole family was killed by scorpions!” They traveled North into Algeria, to a place called Ingazzam, resting there for 10 days, playing in weddings and collecting money. They took the money and purchased gasoline, blankets, and other goods to take to Niger to sell. But on the way to Niamey they heard news of a relative’s wedding. They had to spend all the money on their family. “It’s like that,” Aghaly shrugs.

The brothers continued onto Kano and Lagos, Nigeria (“I never went out of the house in Lagos” Aghaly says). There they received news that their father had died, leaving the family alone. The brothers realized it was time to return. They crossed the border the same day it closed. The Malians applauded when they arrived. knowing them to be the last ones to make it across. “If we came later, the army would have killed us.”

Takamba is immediately recognized by the complex but distinctive rhythm played on the calabash. Takamba is also a dance, kind of a slow ghostly movement, but also a subtle courtship. Performed on the tehardine, the traditional instrument is electrified through small amplifiers and transducer microphones. “The first time my father played with an electrified tehardine,” Aghaly says, “the microphone fell over and my father said ‘I knew it would fall, listen to the sound, it’s too big.'”

In 2017, Aghaly formed a new group, Tallawit Timbouctou. His repertoire today is a record of his travels. From flattering odes to his patrons in different cities, ballads learned along the way from other groups, and traditional pieces that have long circulated amongst the griots, takamba is as much an ancient music as a living record. Earlier this year, we released a special WhatsApp “live” recording. Their debut album is now available on vinyl/cd/digi from the shop and bandcamp.

Tracklist

Hali Diallo – a song for a Pulaar women, from Badi-Hausa, near Ansongo. Written in 1992 in Niamey. She is generous to all the griots, and gave Aghaly lots of money, bazzin, and furniture.

Super Continue – from a group in Niamey

Adernibah – Takamba classic. Translates to “lost feet”. Written by Hamar Assalla, the first griot of Gao. It’s about Sallo and Douma, in a car, lost in the desert. The griot took out his guitar and everyone was happy. It tells the story of Ifoghas. “Everyone should listen to this song, everyone in Agadez, America, Mali.”

Khoumeissa – Another ancient song by Hamar Assalla. Telling the story of a man and woman who dance.

Ami Cisse – Woman from Timbouctou. Written by Baris Ahmedou.

Kanji – Written by Ahany, from Rharous Gourma.

Fatimatou – Written by Aghaly, for a woman from Gao, now deceased.

Kalitay – Song for a group from Gao, led by Doudou.

Abacabok – Song for Hawali, an ancient marabout, who didn’t like griots, and tells the story of how they convinced him to bless their takamba.

Chebiba – A song for the youth. Originally composed as Ishumar guitar song.

Troupe Ecole Tudu – Oyiwane

Troupe École Tudu

The debut album from Troupe École Tudu “Oyiwane” is now available, restored and remastered for the first time outside of Niger!

Troupe École Tudu (previously) take their name from a small neighborhood of Agadez, Niger. In 1985, the city hosted a musical competition between various schools. École Tudu, lacking a choir, sought out guitarist Kader “Barmo” Balla to lead the group. The guitar was new to Niger and Barmo was new to the guitar. His notes were minimal stripped down melodies mirroring the vocals, a technique common in Malian and Guinean folk music. To make something uniquely Saharan, they modeled their percussion on the tende, the traditional Tuareg goatskin drum and rhythm.

Their debut composition titled “Oyiwane” (“Greetings to Everyone”) won first prize at the competition, garnering the attention of the Niger state. The following year they were invited into the studio to record an album, released on the small boutique label Hasada (known for their seminal work with Mamman Sani Abdoulaye). The compositions mixed traditional folk songs with original creations, but the lyrical content was political. At a time of massive rural migration, drought, and exodus, their songs were a message to the modern nomads, emphasizing traditional culture while stressing the importance of education, particularly for young women.

The group continued to win accolades for their music throughout Niger. Following their success, a number of other school groups created similar guitar/vocal folklore groups. This style of music became popular throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s and led to the creation of today’s female music troupes of Niger.

Produced with the support and in collaboration with Kader “Barmo”, we’ve got additional full song translations & liner notes – you can download right here. Enjoy!