Tag Archives: piano

Mohamed Barky, synth from Niger

Mohamed Barky

It’s been quiet around here lately as we’ve been doing this and that, but there’s still so much to share in the archives! Today’s tracks come from a mysterious cassette from Djadje, one of Niamey’s last cassette vendors at the Niger’s Grande Marche (there are two – the other vendor sells only bootleg Takamba) Djadje has a deep selection of everything ever recorded in Niger on tape. He’s one of the few people to own an original Mamman Sani cassette. And he is very reluctant to part with anything. Like most of the cassette vendors, he makes his living off dubbing.

This particular cassette has no identifying jacket or information, suffice a name scribbled “Mohamed Barky.” According to Djadje, Barky was a pianist in Niger, in the same vein as Mamman Sani (though likely much more recent by the sound of it), playing traditional compositions on a synthesizer. He passed away sometime in the last decade. There is no further information or track titles, and no one seems to know anything more about Barky. Djadje wont sell the cassette, but provides me with this copy.

Mohamed Barky – Track 1
Mohamed Barky – Track 2 – Takamba

hama, electronic keyboard wizard


Recently in Niamey, I met up with Hama, keyboardist and electronic music composer (previously, more previously) A few months ago we released an EP of Hama’s recordings, a collaboration with Boomarm Nation. Recorded locally at Flow Wolf Studio “Imidiwan N’Assouf” was remixed by Portland based Gulls and Istanbul’s El Mahdy Jr.

We meet up to talk about future directions and exchange musics. We trade our respective remixes and other media. Hama plays me one track he’s been working on. In the track, a rapper spits some mediocre bars over a custom instrumental. “This is a rap that comes in Fruityloops,” he explains to me. “I put it on to see how my beat paris with the voice, and when it sounds good, I take out the rap.”

Hama’s music continues to standout in Niger, primarily for this reason. His music is electronic but strictly instrumental. While there are certainly electronic musics happening in the Sahel, most of these are elements in larger compositions: the hi-energy backing instrumental of a hip hop track or coupé décalé inspired dance remixes. Instrumental electronic music in Niger is rare. Following in the vein of Mamman Sani Abdoulaye (the two have met, but never collaborated), Hama is the proverbial next generation, ideally one who will get more attention than his predecessor from the Niger public.

Composing in Fruityloops, his computer compositions aren’t arranged. I’ve downloaded Ableton onto his Macbook and brought a small midi controller, to facilitate the painstaking work of composing melodies with a mouse. For the time being, his electronic compositions have a similar live element to them. Layers are unmuted with a mouse click over the bars, slowly building to a crashing momentum. One exception with some minimal arrangement is titled “Baoura” – a work in progress:

Hama – Baoura

In the meantime, until the electronic avant garde expands in Niamey, Hama continues to play his signature Yamaha PSR-64 in weddings. With such a wide distribution across cellphones, his compositions are firmly established in the music repertoire of Niger, albeit outside of the official means. “They love my music, there is something about it. Especially the old people, it makes them travel far in their minds.”


Torodi, the new release from Hama is now available on vinyl and digital download. Compiled from tracks collected across Niger over the past few years, the vinyl release features hand drawn artwork by well known Nigerien political caricature artist Abdoul Karim, beautifully designed and screenprinted by Corum, limited to 500:

“Hama is a multi instrumentalist and electronic synthesizer composer from the Republic of Niger. His music has enjoyed wide acclaim throughout the country through his underground releases of unlabeled digital recordings on memory cards. Creating at the convergence of disparate influences, such as North African instrumental synth, Tuareg tishumaren, 90s Nigerien Hip Hop and second wave Detroit techno, Hama composes music that is futuristic and rooted in tradition, transmitting Tuareg guitar into the 21st Century.”

You can grab the vinyl here at the shop or stream/download at bandcamp.


UPDATE: The music thought to be that of Japonais, is actually of the musician Hama, a Niamey based pianist/electronic musician. See this post here for more info.

Japonais – Piyano 1

Back in 2012, I found a few incredible instrumental piano tracks in Niger. This trip to Agadez, I asked around and friends were quick to identify them as the work of a young man known as “Japonais”* who had been killed in the rebellion of 2009. It was soon after that I was meeting with his family.

Born with the name Alhoussane Khadim, he was given the knickname “Japonais” as a baby for his small eyes. When he was 12 years old, his mother traveled to Libya and returned with a keyboard. Japonais had a natural ear for music, and taught himself to play, eventually upgrading to a larger keyboard purchased in Zinder. He played his piano in weddings, sometimes accompanying musicians, like Abdallah Oumbadougou. He eventually learned to play guitar and drums. “He wrote songs for all the family and for all his friends,” his sister explained. “Everyone had their own song.”

Japonais – Piyano 2< During the last rebellion of Niger, Japonais joined the MNJ (Niger Movement for Justice), a group seeking independence in the North of Niger. For all appearances, the Niger rebellion seems to lack the popular support of the current Malian rebellion. On the other hand, and maybe in explanation for its rapid suppression, the Niger rebellion also was in direct conflict with foreign interests - namely the French company Areva that owns and operates uranium mines in the North with a notorious track record. “It’s one thing to go up against Niger, another to go up against the French,” a friend explains. In 2009, while battling government troops, Japonais was captured, arrested and subsequently “disappeared.” He was 25 years old. The fact that he was captured alive and assassinated by the Nigerien government is unfortunately unsurprising. (“They do this all the time,” a young man explains as I read him this text).

When I ask the family if they have any pictures, they are able to find only two – one of Japonais, a child no more than 12 years old, around the time he first started to play the piano. The other photo shows a young man on the left, arm draped over his friend. The photo is worn and degraded from time and sand and sun. These are the only pictures they have, they explain. After his death, soldiers came to investigate his background and arrest his friends, so they gathered up all the photos and burned them.

Today the music of Japonais continues to circulate through the digital networks of Niger. The songs are often titled “Piyano,” or “Instru,” or sometimes “Bambino” (there are many people that believe the songs are by said artist, due to this clerical error). But not once have I seen one carrying the name of the musician Japonais.

* There is another “Japonais” in the group Tinariwen. This is not him.