Mdou Moctar’s new album, Sousoume Tamachek, is now available! In the past years, Tuareg rock music, particularly that of Niger, has gotten faster. There is a preference for this new sound – both in the raucous weddings of Agadez and in Berlin rock clubs. The wavering guitar solos, rapid fire drums and heavy distortion has become characteristic of the contemporary sound.
For Mdou, this was not always the case. Self taught in a religious region that eschewed the guitar, Mdou was forced to learn music in secret. And when he did begin to play, there were no weddings or festivities. His early oeuvre was developed to play at informal private sessions with his friends. In these “takits” or picnics, Mdou and his friends would pass the lazy days together sitting under a tree, drinking tea, laughing, and singing songs.
For his new record, Mdou revisits this “music for desert picnics,” taking his compositions from his youth, and bringing them to the studio (his repertoire of “takit” songs were never recorded and only exist on warbly cassette recordings compressed into low quality mp3s). From love ballads (“Nikali Talit”), religious praise (“Ilmouloud”), to life counsel (“Amidini”), the songs are intensely personal, both in content and in structure.
Constructed around the guitar, Mdou plays everything on the album in lush layered overdubs, singing both call and response vocals, playing rhythm guitar, and drumming on the calabash. Produced in collaboration with Christopher Kirkley (Sahel Sounds) and longtime associate Jesse Johnson (Boomarm Nation), the light touch pays respect to the origin of these ballads. The result is a very different side of Mdou Moctar, that of quiet introspection, lifted out of memory for one last time.
We put together this little preview video for Mdou Moctar’s upcoming album “Sousoume Tamachek.” The album was recorded in Portland, Oregon, and we brought in a range of local talent in the recording, working with Jason Powers from Type Foundry and Jesse Johnson at Boomarm Nation. But the album itself is just Mdou, playing all the instruments, backup vocals, rhythm guitar, and percussion.
The full release is August 2017, coinciding with Mdou’s first USA tour – stay tuned for tour dates coming soon.
The newest release from Sahel Sounds is titled Agrim Agadez , a compilation of field recordings of guitar music from the Sahelian empire of Niger. Focusing on guitar music throughout the country, and recorded over many years of travels, Agrim Agadez celebrates the diversity of the instrument in the contemporary Sahel.
Like most of the Sahel, the guitar is found in every corner of Niger. Whether acoustic, electric, or built by hand, guitars are highly prized possessions and continue to inspire. Every corner of Niger has particular languages, customs, and cultures, and each corner has taken the instrument and transformed it in its own special way: from bar bands of the southern Hausa land, pastoral flock owning village autodidacts, rag-tag DIY wedding rock musicians, to political minded folk guitarists. Agrim Agadez follows the sounds overheard playing on cassettes, seeking out the once legendary local heroes in their hometowns, and stumbling upon musicians in accidental chance encounters.
For readers of the blog, it’s familiar territory. Much of the music has been shared here over the years, as yours truly was faithfully updating the blog from remote cyber cafes and borrowed cellphone wi-fi. It’s also a continuation of two other records that delved into the same subject, the debut Ishilan n-Tenere, and the subsequent Laila Je T’Aime. Field recordings have always been a foundation of this work (if for anything else, an opportunity to travel!), but there is a certain element to the live recording that is hard to replicate in a controlled sterile space of the studio.
While it would be nice to claim that the record is comprehensive and academic, Agrim Agadez is not that album. This is not a record of research, but something to listen to. You can draw your own conclusions. However, it is a faithful document of the guitar as it’s heard, experienced in the open air studios of Niger with a single microphone, with backdrops of children’s voices, crickets, and village ambience. But above all, it’s a record of people who once upon a time, decided to pick up the guitar and play a song.
The record is available now on vinyl from our shop with 16 page liner notes w/ photos and bios of the bands. You can also listen/download on bandcamp.
Starting off this new year with two new releases: Waande Kadde, dreamy acoustic Pulaar music from the villages of Fouta Toro, and Top WZN, synth, drum machines, and electric tidnit from the capital city of Mauritania. While they are immediately sonically different, they bear more similarities than one may suspect. Both are from the extreme West of the Sahel, geographically miles away. Both are improvisational sessions performed and recorded without any preparation. And both involve the meeting of the traditional and the modern, and the emergent new sounds that come from this encounter.
Tidiane Thiam’s and Amadou Binta Konte’s Waande Kadde, was recorded in the village by the same name – a tiny burg on the banks of the winding Senegal River, on the island of Morfil, in the extreme North of Senegal. Amadou Binta Konté is a fisherman, not a griot, but nevertheless plays the hoddu – a variant of the traditional lute found throughout West Africa. In Fouta Toro, the body of the hoddu is carved out of wood and goat or sheep skin is stretched over the resonator. The “strings” are made of braided nylon fishing line, and attached to the neck with small strips of leather. Tidiane Thiam, guitarist of the group Lewlewal de Podor, plays acoustic guitar modeled on the hoddu.
Guitar songs are played in a major scale (in contrast to the pentatonic scale of Northern Mali) in traditional Pulaar and Manding tunings. There is a common technique of playing with octaves and doubling. The contemporary guitar of Tidiane, while embodied in a different instrument, is very much bound to its predecessor, and nowhere is this more apparent than hearing them together. For our recordings in 2014, we traveled to Waande Kadde to sit with the two musicians in person. This is not the first time the two had played together, yet the music was improvisational. While both Amadou and Tidiane use different instruments, they play within the “folkloric” base, a wide repertoire of traditional songs that are shared across Senegal, Gambia, Mali, and Niger.
TOP WZN is a far cry from the mellow sounds of Waande Kadde – though geographically, it is only a stones throw into Mauritania (literally the other side of the river). The album (originally released on cassette in 2009) showcases Jeich Ould Badu and Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla, playing a signature genre of instrumental music. Transliterized as “alwazan” “wezen” or “wzn”, literally translated as “rhythm,” it colloquially refers to a contemporary genre of instrumental music, defined by synthesizers, electric guitars and lutes, and electronic drum patterns. Jeich Ould Badu is from a celebrated family of griots, and learned to play music at a young age. He plays the tidnit, the traditional Hassaniya lute – modified and updated, the goat skin replaced by flattened tin, and hacked together with phaser pedals and built in pre-amps. Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla is one of the most well known keyboard musicians in Mauritania. He plays an Arabic moded synthesizer capable of the quarter tone scales adapted from the fretless strings of classical Moorish traditions.
Popular Mauritanian music is often performed publicly with large troupes of guitarists, tidnits, synthesizers, and multiple rhythm sections. But in the past decade, the influx of small recording studios and a booming cassette industry has led to artist driven productions. WZN has followed suit, and has been transformed into an established genre. The slick studio sound, warbling tidnit, and microtones of the synthesizer are an integral part of today’s musical landscape, blasting from open air music shops and taxi cabs throughout the capital.
Kader Tarhanine is the musician that you don’t know about, but should. The “you” in question is the presumed readership of the blog, which with the wide reach and randomness of the internet could be really anyone, but would assume to exclude most Tuareg’s themselves – one of the contradictions in working across cultures, but alas.
Group Afous D’Afous is a six person guitar group from Tamanrasset, Algeria. The group is led by Kader Tarhanine, perhaps the most famous and preferred guitarist throughout the Tuareg diaspora over the past 5 years. His song “Tarhanine Tegla” (en: “My Love is Gone”) was one of those “viral” successes of the Bluetooth/Cellphone/Mp3 network of music trading (even Youtube, where the video has over one million views). The song, where he got his name, has a programed drum with a heavy bass kick that loops throughout, with a call and response lyrics dancing with an infectious electric guitar riff. The lyrics owe much to it’s popularity: Kader is heralded as a both a musician and a poet amongst Tuareg fans, where the past years have seen a blight of covers and embarrassingly poorly written songs (infuriating older guitarists, one who recently told me “our music was meant to convey a message, today the musicians barely know Tamashek, just know a few words like “tenere,” and make a song out of it”).
Kader Tarhanine and Afous D’Afous have become stars at home, and are by far the most famous Tuareg band in Algeria. They’ve recorded an album in 2015 that went on to fill all the cellphones from Sebha to Timbouctou, and have recorded several videos with quite high production value.
Which is all the more curious that in the current Western fascination of Tuareg music, where new albums seem to come out every week on record labels, the band seems to have been passed over – missed by (Western) labels*, curators, and just about every music journalist. On a personal note, we (being the larger “Sahel Sounds family that includes just about every musician we work with) kept waiting for this to be picked up by a Western label, and it wasn’t, so we contacted the band. Hopefully this release will help rectify this glossing oversite and set the record straight, as it were.
The single “Tarhanine Tegla” is now available on limited 7″. On the flip is the autotuned Maghrebi influenced “Tarhanam Toussasi.” The records are special old school offset printed fold over. The 7″ is available through the shop, through bandcamp, and just about every other digital platform.
*update: the band was produced in 2015 by the Algerian project Imzad, further identifying the group previously known as Kader Tarhanine as “Group Afous D’Afous”