Chad to the Bone

Mounira Mitchala - Chili Houritki
Mounira Mitchala

Chili Houritki (Lusafrica 562662, 2011)

Chad, a landlocked Saharan nation plagued by drought, political tensions and ethnic divisiveness, is hardly the most well represented African country as far as music goes. Mounira Mitchala has overcome that fact, as well as some personal obstacles, to become as indomitable a voice for Chad as Oumou Sangare has been for Mail. Like Sangare, Mitchala sings in a plainspoken manner about her own country’s problems and those of the whole African continent. And while Chili Houritki was recorded partly in Paris under the most modern of conditions, traditional rhythms and acoustic instruments are the backbone of the songs, which sway to the accompaniment of mainly unplugged guitars and percussion.

Reflective of the land from which she hails, Mitchala’s vocal style has both Arabic intonations and Sahel spunk. It’s a combination that gives her songs of government corruption, women’s rights, unity and African splendor a ring of truth that the subtly tribal rhythms and bright melodies uphold whether the feel is pop-catchy (“Independance”) or more solemn (“Saboura,” “Nadira,” the latter condemning the barbaric practice of female circumcision). Though her upbringing included exposure to rap, electronica and the like, Mitchala’s decision to lean in a roots direction was a darn good one, given not just the scarcity of available traditional Chadian music in general but the more specific need for a voice unafraid to address what’s gone wrong in her home country. Even in the face of those wrongs, hope for better times is heard in the chant-like “Al Salam Alena” and “Hirate,” a song about Chad’s agricultural resources.

Being largely unfamiliar with the music scene in Chad, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this CD. But there’s a warmth and spark to it that are instantly likable even before the deeper intent of the songs becomes clear. Chili Houritki is a dandy of an album from one of Africa’s freshest singers.

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