Tuareg Drone

  • Post category:Mali

Idassane Wallet Mohammed

There are two worlds in the Northern country. If there is any global access to Tuareg culture, it is a window into the city life: the Tuareg who live in places like Kidal, ride motorcycles, swap songs on their cellphone, and dance at the guitar soirees. But outside of the islands of infrastructure, there is another world, a way of living impossible even to the inhabitants of the city. Nomadic families are scattered across the desert, living under tents, surrounded by herds of animals that are both possessions and sustenance. Amongst the majority of families, there is no money, no electricity, no cellular phones, no transport except for your feet. There is, needless to say, no guitar. Conditions in the dry season are difficult and food is sparse. Then finally, Orion disappears from the evening sky for 40 days, and soon the rains come.

The rainy season of the Northern deserts of Mali and Southern Algeria is a time of meeting and celebrations. Nomadic families usually spread out over the parched scrubland gather around the seasonal and intermittent water holes. The animals grow fat and give enough milk to drink to exhaustion. Clothes are cleaned from months of dust and sand and children bath freely in the lakes. Every night, the air is filled with chanting and clapping as the youth play isswat.

Isswat is characterized by singing with a vocal drone. Much like the families who subsist on nearly nothing, the music is sparse and composed of few elements: voice, clapping, stomping, and the drumming on bowls or water drums. The single note drone is accomplished by a circle of men who maintain a low vocal humming while a woman vocalist sings a melody that dances over signature rhythms. (see previously)

For those familiar with Tuareg music, there is something eerily familiar to the guitar based desert rock that has come to define the folk style. Indeed, I’ve heard it said that this was the inspiration for ishumar guitar – rebel fighters in Libyan camps sought to recreate the sound of their far away home, and adapted isswat to the guitar. The guitar melody was created to mimic the female singer, the droning low note of the bass string as the vocal hum.

This recording of Idassane Wallet Mohammed was made in Kidal, Mali in 2008. The Tuareg run studio “Maison de Luxembourg” produced a handful of CDs and cassettes sold in Kidal (It has since been looted and destroyed by the Islamists who briefly occupied the town). The recordings stand out as professional/local Tuareg productions. They are love songs, songs that speak of nomadic life, songs that reference Adrar and local geography. Today, while the guitar music may reign supreme in towns like Kidal, the nomads live in world apart. Isswat is the real music of the desert.

The record is available now from the shop or via bandcamp – a collaboration w/ Mississippi Records. We’ve made 500 of them with handmade covers, a homage to the some of the motifs of Tuareg design.

Below is a video of Idassane Wallet Mohamed performing. Currently, she is near the border of Algeria.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Ben

    hi christopher,
    are these going to be available from any european distros? shipping from usa to germany is very expensive (20$). sadly i missed the mammane sani lp for this reason.

  2. sahelsou

    i usually send stuff to sofadisc, clearspot, and boomkat…

  3. Kabako

    hi Chriss
    the LP arrived today, what a great sound!
    And I like the cover very much, too….

    Can you provide some further informations about the songs, the single songnames, etc?
    A bit a pity, not much information comes with the album…

  4. sahelsou

    I know! It’s a bummer – I’m working with someone who should be translating them. It’s taking longer than planned. However, the songnames are printed on the back cover.

  5. Kabako

    I can understand, that it takes longer, than westerns usually think…
    therefore: don’t worry for the time it takes, still: it’s to interesting to just stay with the

  6. Kabako

    – songnames

    that’s been cancelled ( in html-language) , cause I applied the bracket signs, which are on back cover.

  7. sahelsou

    Thanks! Yes, I’ll post more info as I have it.

  8. Clark Bush

    Hi chris, ClarK Bush here from Fresh Produce Records in Macon Georgia. Where do you recommend we buy sahelsounds vinyls for our storefront this coming summer?

  9. Kabako

    hi Chris

    any news from the information-desk?

    So I’ll add one:
    The LP: “Les Touareg; avec les seigneurs du sable” has 4 tracks with pretty same stuff, from 1970!
    They’ re called Ahal, and credited to the Adrar des Iforas, na names… so same place.
    Interesting to listen to it side by side. Some places in the world don’t change in 40 years.

    Is your vinyl Issawat, from Idassane Wallet Mohamed recorded in Kidal itself, or outside?
    The text isn’t really clear about that.
    Thanks, k.

  10. sahelsou

    Yes, the album was recorded in Kidal at a place called Maison de Luxembourg. The studio also recorded lots of other artists, including Amanar and their album “Alghafiat”

  11. John R

    Regarding the album info / liner notes, Folkways/Smithsonian has a not-well-advertised service that could be pretty handy for you. There’s an almost hidden link for a .PDF download of the liner notes on the page for virtually every album in their back catalog! Since the extensive liner notes are so integral to those records, this is huge since they so often go missing over the years. I was going to write to ask for some when I noticed the links! No more disappointment when I score an Folkways record and discover that it has no notes — Just print and put inside the sleeve 🙂

    It shouldn’t be too much stress or space on your hosted server, and may save you the headache of responding to individual requests. Perfect, too, in cases like this: Maybe you could even print a little card or something to stick in the record when it ships that says something like “Album info and liner notes coming soon! Check sahelsounds.com/notes to download and print!”.

    Example here.

  12. kabako


    I can’t more than agree with you – some of these pdfs are a unique source of information, that you couldn’t have access otherwise. !
    In theses days of downloadstores, I sometimes go and by the vinyl, just for getting the cover information and the linernotes.

    as time goes by, my music-database has reached more than 3k of documents…

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