Ahmed Sidi Bella – Bundja (tidnit)
Ahmed Sidi Bella – Wezen (guitar)
I first met Ahmed Sidi Bella, way back in 2009, during my first field recordings. At the time, he only had a tidnit and a child’s size nylon string guitar. With trepidation, I put the microphone in the window, as to be so far out of the way as not to disturb him, much to his confusion. When I visit years later, we both have evolved somewhat. He has a number of instruments and an amplifier. And I know how to place a microphone.
Ahmed lives in Chinguetti, an ancient and ruinous caravan town from the 13th century. The village more recently was a stop on the French tourist circuit, with direct flights from Europe – since in decline, with the ever-expanding “Zone Rouge.” His family compound is a huge compound, across the sand river in the old section of town. Language is challenging, and my attempts to a deeper understanding of Mauritanian classical modes is a failure, but we manage a number of recordings. Ahmed plays both the tidnit, the Mauritanian interpretation of the ubiquitous West African guitar, as well as the standard electric guitar, modified for quarter tones. His mother Aicha Imbend joins in with percussion and a chorus of handclaps and vocals from the rest of the family.
Moudou ould Mattalla is Chinguetti’s most well known musician. Originally from Zourate, on the border with Algeria, he lives in the village and shares his knowledge with whoever is passing through. He released a CD that is sold in France, that was recorded in his home. In his “music room,” the walls are literally covered with pen markings, the different tunings and scales corresponding to each mode of Mauritanian music.
Moudou demonstrating the mode Al-Lebait
Collaborative jam session with a drum machine
Modou playing in soiree
Ambient recordings from a party
Ahmed Imbend is a talented self taught musician. “My first guitar, I made when I was a kid. It had one string. Eventually, I got bored, and added another string. I just kept adding strings.”
Today, he plays an old student sized Spanish guitar. In the typical DIY fashion, one of the strings is made from a bicycle cable, the transducer pickup is from a telephone, and the amplifier is a stereo with it’s leads spliced. He plays with an alternate tuning (E-Ab-Db-E-Ab-Db) that owes a great deal to the tidnit.
Ahmed with homemade “jagwa”
Ahmed chinguetti song
riff with tapping
Lastly, at an Auberge in the old city across the wadi, a woman’s group is assembled and singing for a group of French tourists.
Traditional Moor song
A small town in the rugged interior of Mauritania, an ancient site renowned for its libraries and a caravan trading town for well over a thousand years.
Nearly every night, one can hear a distant drumming and chanting. I stumble out in the dark to discover the source. In a crumbling courtyard across the wadi in the old section of town, fifteen men are gathered. This is called “Medh” – or chanting for the Prophet Mohammad. Two men are leading the songs, but everyone is joined in the chanting. There are a few woman present, and the occasionally join in with the shrill cry as they mingle in the background, preparing tea. In Chinguetti, this occurs almost every night, and I am to understand that it is performed exclusively by the “black” Moor.
Medh from a distance
One afternoon I meet with Mama Dimi Mint, a performer in Moudou ould Mattalla group. I come along with the guitar, and bring a trail of children with me. On the tapi (straw mat), a mass of children, boys and girls at their respective sides, play tbal (a shallow drum that looks like a bowl covered with a skin), clap, sing, and bang on whatever else they can find.
Mama Dimi Mint and kids 1
Mama Dimi Mint and kids 2
Mama Dimi Mint and kids 3