Tag Archives: niger music

Azna de L’Ader Desert Disco

Azna de L’Ader – Adawi

Azna de L’Ader – Jan Marké

There is something mysterious about the musical archive. It holds a lot of promise. Where live performance – the way music was existed for millennia prior to physical medium – is immediate and experiential, media rendered to medium (physical, digital) can be visited at any moment. But it needs to be played. And so “the archive” becomes a place where sounds exist in limbo. A moment in time, frozen, waiting to be heard again.

And that’s exactly why archives are so exciting. But after years of digging around in W. Africa, I’ve accumulated my own “new” archives, and many of the sounds have been moved from one limbo to another. Sometimes I’ve not yet had the time to go through them: entire collections of cassettes, copied en masse from a cassette vendor at a market stall; flash drives from radio stations, filled with mp3s, too daunted to look at. Most of the time, it’s because these musics form part of projects in nebulous states of completion.

In 2014 I made a concentrated research to find the archives of the golden era of Niger music history. Often referred to as “musique moderne nigérienne,” it’s a recent genre born in the late 1970s. Niger “modern” came in the waves. The early or first generation of modern artists (Mona, Ali Djibo, Mamman Sani, El Hadj Taya) drew influence from Western rock and American soul. In the 1980s and 1990s a second wave of musicians appeared (Mamman Barka, Sani Aboussa, Sani Bori, and Adams Junior). These groups helped to create a specific Nigérienne sound, championed by contemporary groups like Tal National.

Azna de L’Ader, in its first incarnation, was a rock band. Mona took his cues from Western rock and was known throughout the region as the “Hendrix of the Sahara” (playing a fuzz face with tube amps), even performing in a purple frizzy jacket. Mona rarely performs these days. In the 1990s he stepped back from his solo work, and become the business and musical director of the band. About that time, Azna de L’Ader took a completely left turn. The 1990s Azna introduced synthesizer, a snapping decalé rythm, and spaced out vocal lines. The new Azna was less Hendrix and more electronic soukouss, a type of desert space disco.

Azna de L’Ader never released any official albums, but I found a few reels of tape recorded at the National Radio in the late 80s/early 90s – too good to sit in another archive. Stay tuned for more.

petit à petit

Over the past few weeks I’ve been back in Niger working on a film project in Agadez with Jérome Fino from the Marseille based collective l’improbable. In addition, we’ve been shooting some short music segments, many of which have now been edited and uploaded – including Group Inerane, the Cure Salee, Mdou Moctar, and more, available here.

will the circle be unbroken

cure salee

The Cure Salee is a yearly event in Niger in the town of Ingall, an hour oustide of Agadez. The event marks the occasion when the nomads come to let their animals drink the local water, supposed to possess certain qualities. To us, it just tastes salty. The “official” festival is organized by the state, one of hundreds like it. At the main event, there is a small stage, speakers, seating for the nobles, camera crews and loads of “local” tourists – Nigeriens from Ingall, Agadez, Air, and even Tahoua.

During the official event, there is another Cure Salee happening just outside. Crowds are gathered around watching the Gerewol (the “official” Gerewol will be later, in December). Circles of Wodaabe men are dressed in ornate fabrics, ostrich feathers in their headdresses, with faces painted in yellow. It is this activity that the Wodaabe are most known for – perhaps the only thing they are known for in the West. If Tuareg guitar has done something to change and modernize the image of the Tamashek, the Wodaabe are still defined by this image.

Gerewol – Ingall

“Gerewol is really just a village tradition – something the kids do a night,” a friend explains. During gerewol, the men gather in an inwards facing circle, that slowly grows in members and expands. Tall and thin, in traditional costume (though a few young men are wearing cowboy hats), they stretch up and down, widening their eyes and mouths, showing their teeth. The music is directed by one singer, joined by others humming in a single note. Young girls walk around, turning on flashlights, looking at the legs, the clothing, the faces. There are many circles, we move about them like planets, each Gerewol circle closed to enter, all of the spectators standing on the outside. Over the tall figures of the singers, it’s hard to see what is happening inside.

On the last night of the Cure Salee, I happen upon the music of some Wodaabe women singing. Gathered in a circle as well, led by a woman named Halima who sings the refrain with a chorus answering her voice, it’s hypnotic but again, so completely foreign. I join in with the crowds of cellphone archivists and journalists from Niger television. Obligated as I may be to stand outside of the circle, I finally decide the best course of action. I take my digital recorder and throw it in the center.

Halima – Ingall

timia pt 2


Visiting Niamey, we lodge with the students from Timia. Our last sessions of recordings have made their way throughout the diaspora (previously). Haidara tells me they’ve been playing one of his songs on the radio in Agadez. We enter into a debate about the pros and cons about Bluetooth file transfers in relation to music. The next day, Ali Abdoulaye stops in for a visit. After playing around with a portable amplifier with contact mic, Ali cues up some of the rhythms one his cellphone, composed on Fruityloops. Holding it against the guitar transmits the sound, something different in the Tuareg guitar canon. “Easier then finding a good drummer,” Ali jokes.

Ali Abdoulaye – Tarhanine Tigla