Mamman is well known throughout Niger, but his synth music was never hugely popular. He came from a privileged place in Niger society – his maternal grandfather was a chief in Ghana, his paternal grandfather a Colonel in the first World War, and Mamman’s father was a librarian for the American Cultural Center. As a young man, Mamman became a functionary for UNESCO, during which he traveled to Japan and Europe. During one of the UNESCO meetings, a delegate from Rwanda had brought along his Italian “Orlo” organ. Mamman was captivated by the sound and convinced him to sell it. “It was possibly the first Organ in Niger,” he explained. He began to compose songs on the organ. Many of these songs were interpretations of Niger folkloric classics. “I wanted to make the Wodaabe songs on the keyboard, make the Tuareg tendé with the rhythm,” he said. Some were his own compositions. Salamatu, one his most popular songs, was created for his girlfriend. He stopped as he came across her photo, how he once lay with his head in her lap, and tears came to his eyes. When she asked him why he was crying, he answered “Because I’ve never been so happy as I am in this moment.” He sits quietly, before I asked what happened to Salamatu, and he smiles before shaking his head and turning the page.
His first and only album was recorded in 1978. Mamman stepped into the studio of the National Radio with his organ, where it was transposed and overdubbed in two takes. In coordination with the Minister of Culture, the album was released in a limited series of cassettes showcasing modern Niger music. The cassette project unfortunately did not progress as planned, and merely a handful were released. Perhaps 100 were made – Mamman is unsure – fabricated in Nigeria. The copy that he owns and the one at the archive are the only ones he knows are left. Nevertheless, for over 30 years, Mamman continued to play. For a short while he even had a television show called “Mamman Sani et son Orgue Électronique” on Niger’s television. He digs out a short clip, a black and white video transfer playing in front of the same backdrop that graces the cover of the cassette. Mamman is hardly esoteric or forgotten in Niger. His music today is known by everyone – it forms much of the repertoire of televised intermissions, radio segue-ways, and background music. And Mamman has continued to update his organs and pianos when they fall apart, benefiting from generous contributions from high society, gifts of presidents and ministers.