of love and eyebrows

After two years, the tracks of popular West African tunes found on cellphones were released, remixed, and now successfully returned to their point of collection Kidal, Mali. (previously) As a rebellion seems to break out days prior to my depart, the 30 microSD memory cards are handed to a truck driver making the perilous journey North. Confirmation comes via a cellphone appropriately that the cards have arrived with a friend and have been distributed about town to the remaining population.

Of all the remixes and reinterpretations, the most well received in the Sahel has undoubtedly been Brainstorm’s “Tahoultine” — a cover of Mdou Moctar’s song of the same name — which has just recently been followed by a digital EP (link) and second cover of “Anar” under the title “Vanessa”.

“Vanessa” West African debut, cellphone on bus outside of Tahoua, Niger:

Brainstorm / Mdou Moctar – Vanessa

I journey to Abalak, a town perched along the road to the North of Niger to meet with Mdou. In the ensuing days, we record a plethora of new tracks, travel to his birthplace and write his story. In the meantime, Brainstorm’s tracks jump from my cellphone onto the bluetooth network, instantly popular. Mdou is a local celebrity and his songs are well known — and the novelty of an American band covering the songs in English is not lost in the desert. Mdou speculates: “In just awhile, you’ll find this on cellphones as far away as Bamako…”

We organize a face to face meeting with Mdou and Brainstorm via Skype, commandeering the office of a local NGO after business hours, one of the only places to find internet in the village. Despite the initial difficulties, a brief meeting via video chat is arranged, and while the interplay of live collaboration is prohibitive due to the sufferable speed, a few songs are exchanged.

Video recording of Skype session, recorded on cellphone, Abalak, Niger:

on camera:

The word Anar means eyebrows in the Tamashek language of Niger. It’s one of three songs that Mdou composed for a lost love of years back, and his attempts at forgetting.

“Love has become a malady for me — the night passes, I don’t even know its night, and in the morning I don’t do anything but think of her. If the love for her had a medication, I would drink it regardless of the taste. My dream is to turn into a small bird to fly to her, and give her a kiss between her eyebrows.”

The lyrics bear a striking semblance to those of the re-interpretations, a chance of synchronicity, a testament to how a message can be hidden in a melody — or a reminder that even in worlds apart, affairs of the heart are not so different.

Mdou Moctar – Anar (live)

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Phil

    Beautiful words and music. So cool to see the dimensions this project is taking on.

  2. aliyahya

    bonjour à tous je suis quel qu’un qui aime bien les chansons de mdou.mdou est un grand frere pour il m conait trés bien comme que nous dans le meme village.j’aimerais savoir est ce que mdou va sortir un nouveau album ou bien il seulement modifié l’autre?je remercie

  3. Hudson Gardner

    Incredible post. I really love the video you just posted on Mdou at a wedding.. I shared it around to a few of my friends and they were totally perplexed why it had so few views.

  4. sahelsou

    I just posted it up — just got back to the states, hi speed internet, etc. I’ll put a link to it from the site soon….

  5. robert horton

    love the website, the sounds, the descriptions, the view of life in sahel,
    the archives for 2012 can’t be accessed ( the ones later than march)
    you get a message that says you don’t have permission to access. perhaps this is intended i don’t know.
    thanks again
    your site is art

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