Tag Archives: pulaar

Radio Niger with a little distortion

radio niger

Happy 2017, and onto a new year.

Stumbled across this beautiful piece of technology in Niamey last month. The masons were busy working on a friends house, and the distorted wail was amplified by the concrete room that was slowly being constructed around it. The mason informed me that the music was “Pulaar” – the instrument here being amplified molo. There are curious levels of distortion, all layered, from the initial amplification and blown out speakers, to the cellphone recording capturing device, to the AUX in on the cheapo bootleg stereo (of the ever popular X-BASS brand so common in W. Africa).

Apologies for the silence, more coming soon.

inspiration information

Yonta Hande – Njellu

I take a taxi to “Seizieme” — the sixth district. Nouakchott is divided up into neighborhoods, and this is one of the earlier nomenclatures, before things got weird. The new suburbs have names like Basra and Falluja, inspired by the affinity for Arabic satellite TV channels. Seizieme is not far from the capital, but there is more spacing between houses, wider the streets and more sand. More room for the wind to blow in off the sea.

I meet Max next to the “third water post” (everything in the neighborhood is designated by water stations, there’s no central lines). He’s the percussionist of the group, wearing signature knit cap, an embossed photo of a Marabout dangling around his neck. A tall smiling kid, much younger than his height suggests. We walk around the corner and between the clusters of houses where children are playing soccer, kicking a ragged ball between makeshift goals of two hunks of concrete, deftly placed. He leads me to the bands rehearsal space — a squat concrete room. The walls are covered in blackboards, the floor a musty carpet. The walls are likewise covered in variations of Pulaar phrases, haphazardly scrawled in orange and green marker. One of the band members uses this space as a school — for transliteration of Pulaar language, apparently. There are two portable amps, for the guitar and the vocals, and two drums, the large djembe with four metal pieces on the periphery, and a smaller drum played with a hand and stick. The latter is lifted and rests on a partially crushed yellow plastic water bidon, the ubiquitous multi-function tool, to carry water, to sit, apparently as a drum stop.

They launch into the repetition without hesitation. The volume is crushing, maxed out in the typical fashion where each element of the orchestra is attempting to fight for sonic dominance. The crackling, clipped vocals are belted out by the lead vocalist, a young Pulaar kid with dreadlocks and features not unlike the great star Baba Maal. Though his vocal styles don’t stray far from the melodies of the aforementioned predecessor, the energy is pure mbalax, the clatter of the drums bouncing throughout the concrete chamber, until even the echoes are drowned out, washing over every audible frequency. With the blue walls and the flooded sound it feels like the rooms is closed, filled like a tank. It is “river” blues after all, which at it’s heart is never far from Fouta, and at least the memory of seasonal floods.

The group is called Yonta Hande — Pulaar for “New Generation” — and it’s a collective that extends beyond something as simple as music. In their words, “A new project concerned with the new generation for development…” Not just a music group, but also a collective of theater performers and educators.

I leave the compound after recording their repertoire — I’ll burn their music on CD for the group afterwards, getting recordings in a method that is immediately beneficial to both parties. When I walk out the door, I hear the muted amps blasting through the wall and into the street, as does much of the neighborhood. The sound in the dark street is encouraging, if not for the education of the youth and much touted concepts that seem to get lose efficacy in their repetition, but for something more simple and immediate — the promotion of the act of creation. And that as long as that is kept alive and people are doing something, and saying something, the voices will flood out the city and maybe leave a fertile ground for the next crop.

message in a bottle

Hamadt Ka is one of Nouakchott’s crop of modern singer/songwriters. He lives in Basra, between the town and the sea. The sand streets are quiet and the houses are staggered. Many of the residents are Pulaar and Wolof, having left the cramped transient quarters of Cinquieme to build in a place “where the wind blows” — it is cooler here, and the breeze tumbles down the wide streets with the taste of salt.

The lyrics are in Pulaar, but stark categorization is a bit presumptuous — the “Pulaar Folk” genre built on specific modes — when there are a wider array of styles and influences than Fouta Toro…

A pentatonic song of drought and village exodus:


…and a Seu-Jorgesque cover:


The Isle of Morfil

Along the border of Senegal and Mauritanian, one finds the ancient kingdom of Fouta Toro – meandering rivers and wide floodplains, covered in scrubby forest and dust, and occasional green patches of irrigated rice and millet. The Isle of Morfil, named for the elephants which have long since vanished, lies in the plane; technically Senegal; but identified as Fouta.

Fouta Toro is old and complex in character. Myths and magic abound, castes and tradition stand strong against the onslaught of outward influence, predating the French colonialism, the Wolof language, even the Islamic invasion. In fact, it was from the Isle of Morfil that the Tekrur empire, joined with the Almoravids, marched upwards and onwards conquering the Iberian Peninsula.

The traditional music of Fouta is based on the Hoddu; but many traditional ‘universal’ songs have been adapted to the guitar.

Tidiane playing Douga

Tidiane playing Fanta

Group Lewlewal de Podor (Baye Aly N’Diongue, Tidiane Thiam, Demba Doka Barry) rehearses daily next to the barber shop in Podor. They play traditional folk music, but incorporate modern elements; the songs are in Wolof and Pulaar.

Group Lewlewal with Touba

Group Lewlewal with Tara (traditional)

Traditional Pulaar literature is oral – stories often being sung. One of the more interesting forms of literature is that of Pekane. The Pekane is performed solely by the cubaalo or fisherman caste, and in its variety of forms can be used to tell a story, poetry, genealogy, or the more mysterious incantation, to speak and call forth fish. The little village of NgoulĂ© is a few kilometers from Podor – but it’s here that one of the most famous legends of Fouta is based, Seeku Balli and his battle with the Crocodile Ngari NgoulĂ©.

The story of Seeku Bali, as performed by Ngari Ngaoule and Souleyman Sarr

Ngaoule is a beautiful mystic place. Like the combination of Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel and a Japanese Ronin folk tale. When I arrive on donkey cart, I make directly for the river. The bank is lined with green mango trees, and a few people in the distance are bathing or washing or pushing out on their pirogues. If you listen closely you can hear a bird in the tree. And a mango drop.


Peul’s Boutique

The Peuls are group of historically pastoral people stretching from the Senegal to Cameroon. But the Pulaar culture in Mauritanian is distinctly that of the Senegalese River that defines the border between the two countries. The music of “le fleuve” has been commercially popularized by Baba Maal, and he has no doubt aided to it’s survival and repetition.

Sall is a folk guitarist – a true folk guitarist. He has no interest in playing concerts, but will gladly pick up the guitar in his salon in the “African quarter” as the array of toddlers wander in and out. He’s often joined in song with his wife, Kumba, or his children, if they can be coerced to sing along. Notice crying infants, bleating goats, and clanking tea glasses (all integral to Mauritanian recordings).

Sall explains the “base” of Peul folk music

Sall with family

Sall and Kumba

Abderahmane Amdou Ba, also known as Daarorgal Fulbe, Pulaar griot, sings in a rehearsal here with backing guitar of Babi (pronounced Bah-bi) Sall and Jawara, of the group Dental, accompanied by the jazz trumpet of Leon Nade, the director of the new music school here in Nouakchott.

Daarorgal Fulbe

Finally, in the spirit of field recordings…a nighttime walk through Cinquieme.

Cinquieme at night