Tuareg act Les Filles de Illighadad comes from an isolated village in
central Niger, in the outback deserts at the edge of the Sahara. The camp is
only reachable through a difficult drive through the open desert and there is
little infrastructure, no electricity or running water. The surrounding
countryside supports hundreds of herders, living with and among their farm
animals, as their families have done for centuries.
The music performed by Les Filles de Illighadad known as tende comes from a drum built from a goat skin stretched across a mortar and pestle. Tende music is developed from a few elements: vocals, handclaps, and percussion. Songs talk about the village, of love, and celebrate ancestors. It’s a musical form directed by women. Tende is a tradition for all the young girls, performed during celebrations and to pass the time at nighttime during the rainy season.
Fatou Seidi Ghali, lead vocalist and instrumentalist of Les Filles de Illighadad is one of the few Tuareg female guitarists in Niger. Using her older brother’s guitar, she taught herself to play. While Fatou’s position as the first female Tuareg guitarist is revolutionary, it is just as interesting for her musical direction. In a place where gender norms have generated two different types of music, Fatou and Les Filles de Illighadad are reaffirming the role of tende in Tuareg guitar.
Instead of the jembe or the drum set, Les Filles de Illighadad feature the traditional drum and the pounding calabash, half buried in water.
Goumour Almoctar, beter known as Bombino, was born on January
1, 1980, in Tidene, Niger, a settlement of nomadic Tuaregs located about 80
kilometers to the northeast of Agadez.
Bombino spent his early childhood between the encampment and
the town of Agadez, the largest city in northern Niger and historically a part
of the ancient Sahara trade routes connecting North Africa and the
Mediterranean with West Africa.
Bombino attended a French-Arabic school that taught both French
and classic Arabic.
After the first Tuareg rebellion in Mali and Niger, Bombino
fled with his father and grandmother to stay with near relatives in Algeria.
One day, relatives arrived from the front lines of the rebellion, carrying with
them two guitars that they left behind for a few months. Bombino began to teach
himself to play the guitars.
Bombino and his family decided to move back to Agadez.
During a trip to Niamey, Niger for medical treatment, Bombino met with his
uncle Rissa Ixa, a famous Tuareg painter, who gave him a guitar. After
returning to Agadez, Bombino joined the Tuareg political party where he met the
best guitarist of the party, a man named Haja Bebe. He received lessons,
improving so fast that Haja Bebe invited him to join his band. It was during
that time that Bombino acquired his nickname. As the youngest and smallest
member of the band, the other members called him Bombino, a variation on the
Italian word bambino for “little child.”
Bombino got a role as an extra in the French film Imuhar: A
Legend that was filmed in the nearby desert. After finishing his work on the
film, Bombino settled into life as working musician, performing at political
rallies, weddings, and other ceremonies.
He argued often with his father, who did not want his son to
become a musician. To escape this problem, Bombino decided to travel to Algeria
and Libya in 1996. In Libya, he made friends with some local musicians, and
they spent time watching videos of Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits
and others in an effort to master their skills. Bombino was rapidly becoming an
accomplished guitarist and was in high demand as a backing musician. While working as a herder in the desert near
Tripoli, Libya, Bombino spent many hours alone watching the animals and
practicing his guitar.
Eventually, Bombino decided to return to Niger, where he continued to play with various local bands. As his legend grew, a Spanish documentary film crew helped Bombino record his first album, which became a local hit on Agadez radio. The success of the album validated Bombino’s choice to make a career out of music, and he began playing regularly for tourists and locals alike.
In 2006, Bombino traveled to California with the band Tidawt
for a tour organized by a non-profit organization. During the trip, he recorded a desert blues
version of the Rolling Stones classic “Hey Negrita” together with Stones’
members Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. The track appears on the 2008 album
led by Rolling Stones saxophonist Tim Riese, titled Stone’s World: The Rolling
Stones Project Volume 2.
In 2007, the second Tuareg rebellion began, and the
government countermeasures were powerful and arbitrary. Many civilians were killed and farms and
livestock were devastated in an effort to crush the rebellion. The government’s
tactics only served to incite the Tuareg community, and many around Bombino
joined the rebellion. Government forces killed two of Bombino’s musicians, so
he fled in exile to Burkina Faso along with many of his fellow Tuaregs.
In 2009, he met filmmaker Ron Wyman who had heard a cassette of Bombino’s music while traveling near Agadez. Wyman was enchanted by Bombino’s music and spent a year seeking him out, eventually tracking him down to Wagadugu, Burkina Faso, where Bombino was living in exile. While there, Wyman decided to feature Bombino in a documentary he was filming about the Tuareg. Later that year, he took Bombino to Cambridge, Massachusetts to begin recording the album Agadez in his home studio.
On April 2, 2013, Bombino made his Nonesuch Records debut with the release of the album Nomad. Nomad debuted at #1 on the Billboard World Music album chart and earned enthusiastic reviews.
Bombino traveled to Woodstock, New York in late 2015 to
record Azel (2015). There were a few remarkable innovations on this album. The
first is the introduction of a new style Bombino is pioneering that he warmly calls
‘Tuareggae’ – a mix of Tuareg blues/rock with reggae. Another is the first-ever use of Western
vocal harmonies in recorded Tuareg music.
In November 2017, Bombino and his group traveled to
Casablanca, Morocco to record Deran (Partisan Records). Bombino wished to
return to Africa to record and to step away from celebrity producers to create
the most authentic expression of his music possible. Deran benefited from deeper involvement from
his band – Youba Dia (bass), Illias Mohamed (rhythm guitar) and Corey Wilhelm
(drums), and Mohamed Araki Eltayeb (keys) – in arrangement and other creative
Bombino is an advocate for teaching children the Tuareg language of Tamashek, the Berber language, as well as French and Arabic, all of which he speaks fluently. “We fought for our rights,” says Bombino, “but we have seen that guns are not the solution. We need to change our system. Our children must go to school and learn about their Tuareg identity.”
Agamgam 2004 (Reaktion, 2010) Agadez (Cumbancha Records, 2011) Nomad (Nonesuch, 2013) Azel (Partisan Records, 2015) Live At The Belly Up (Belly Up Live, 2016) Deran (Partisan Records, 2018)
Toumast was founded in the 90’s around Moussa Ag Keyna. In 1993, after years of combat and resistance, Moussa was severely wounded and evacuated to France, later joined by Aminatou Goumar. His encounter with composer, arranger and producer Dan Levy in Paris was the starting point to the recording of the album Ishumar (2007).
It is a testimony about the years of combat and disillusion experienced by the Tuaregs. The songs contain topics precious to the Ishumar: the nostalgia of the nomadic life, love, the bitter taste of exile and the criticism of politics.
Etran Finatawa combines the rich nomadic cultures of the Tuareg and Wodaabe people from the West African country of Niger. For thousands of years, the region has served as a crossroads between the Arabs of North Africa and the sub-Saharan traditions.
Etran Finatawa mix traditional instruments with electric guitars, combining the polyphonic songs of the Wodaabe people with modern arrangements, and transporting you to the Sahara with their evocative sound.
Abdoulaye Alhassane was born in 1963 in Niamey (Niger) to a Sonrai family from Gao (Mali). He is a superb multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and producer. His principle instrument is guitar and he sings and plays molo, gurmi and a number of other Central Saharan string instruments.
Toure was musical director, composer and lead guitarist for the popular roots band Mamar Kassey. The band released two CDs, Denke Denke (1999) and Alatoumi (2000) that introduced Toure’s guitar skills.
Toure also launched the careers of Moussa Poussy and many other singers from Niger, for whom he composed and arranged all of the music.
Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure is a master of the music of many Saharan cultures and languages: Songhai, Sonrai, Tamashek, Peul, Zerma, Hausa, and others. His original music is rich in complex rhythms, beautiful blue modes, and full of jubilant enthusiasm.