The most famous of the Tuareg desert blues bands, Tinariwen, made their new album during a road trip from southern Morocco to Nuakchot in Mauritania. The project started after Tinariwen’s October 2018 performance at the Taragalte Festival of nomadic cultures in the Moroccan Sahara. Tinariwen traveled with their French production team, who drove an old camper van that has been turned into a provisional mobile studio.
The road trip along Africa’s Atlantic coast took about 12 days. The Malian band and crew crossed southern Morocco, the Western Sahara and ended up in Nuakchott, the capital of Mauritania. Throughout the journey, the caravan stopped to set up camp. Tinariwen’s musicians made preparations for the recording and rehearsed their songs.
Once in Nuakchott, Tinariwen spent two weeks recording with celebrated Mauritanian musician Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly. The recordings were made under a large tent, with a small number of live takes, devoid of headphones or effects.
Amadjar showcases Tinariwen’s characteristic style: slow paced, dreamy songs featuring creative bluesy electric guitar lines and call and response vocals, enriched with violin, Noura Mint Seymali’s traditional ardin harp, handclapping rhythms and percussion.
Amadjar is a well-constructed, deeply mesmerizing album by one of the finest bands out of Mali.
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)
Tuareg musician Mdou Moctar was born in 1986 in Niger. Mdou Moctar comes from a small village in central Niger in a remote region.
Growing up in an area where secular music was nearly banned, he taught himself to play on a homemade guitar made out of wood parts. Many years later he found a real guitar and taught himself to play in secret. He immediately became a star among the village youth. In a surprising change, his songs began to win over local religious leaders with their lyrics of respect, honor, and tradition.
In 2008 he traveled to Nigeria to record his first album “Anar.” A psychedelic remake of the Tuareg sound, the electronic tracks featured innovative pitch bending synthesizers, drum machines, and autotune.
In 2010, he collaborated with the label and collective Sahel Sounds, releasing his first international album, “Afelan.”
In 2015, he co-wrote and starred in the first ever Tuareg-language film, “Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It,” a Saharan remake of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
In 2017, he changed his sound once more with “Sousoume Tamachek,” a recording evoking the calm desert soundscape, tackling religion, spirituality, and love.
His album Ilana is an ambitious recording pushing Tuareg guitar into an ever louder, rock-oriented direction.
World music fans looking for
a desert blues/rock fix get their wish on February 15th with the
release of Kel Assouf’s Black Tenere. To be released on the Glitterbeat Records
label, Black Tenere is the follow-up recording to Kel Assouf’s 2016 release of
Tikounen and the 2013 release of Tin Hinane. Burning bright with Belgium based,
but Nigerien born, front man and guitarist Anana Ag Haroun, Belgium jazz drummer
Oliver Penu and Tunisia born keyboardist Sofyann Ben Youssef, who also took on
producing the album, Black Tenere is a razor sharp call of the Kel Tamashek or
Tuareg culture as well as a blistering delicious addition to Kel Assouf’s
Black Tenere thrives on
potent duality where homage is paid to the Kel Tamashek (Tuareg) traditions and
current struggles for independence and a contemporary delving into Western rock
influences like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Queen of the Stone Age with
some European electronic soundscapes tossed in for good measure.
Noting that, “These days I’m a Belgian when I’m in Niger and a Nigerien when I’m in Belgium,” Anana Ag Haroun says, “My musical tastes didn’t change but they are expanding further thanks to my different encounters and my curiosity. Black Tenere is a rock album. It’s a choice to give a more original touch that builds up the identity of Kel Assouf and differentiates it from the other groups of Ishumar music. For me the music has to travel and it has to be open to other sounds so that everyone can listen to the messages it carries.”
Black Tenere opens
with fiery “Fransa,” replete with call and response vocals, guitar, keyboards
and the familiar rolling rhythm, taking on the complexities of French intervention
and squaring that with the state of their own nomadic way of life. “Fransa”
gives way to the hard rocking “Tenere” with some truly kickass drumming, guitar
licks and keyboards. “Alyochan” is just as amazing with driving drumming.
“Tamatant” is where Black Tenere takes a sharp left turn to land listeners into
dreamy electronic soundscape. The guitar licks seem to be suspended in space
and the vocals soulful.
The electronica is
part and parcel to Mr. Ben Youssef’s influences, his own work on AMMAR 808, a
Pan-Maghreb futurism and the Stockholm Stureparken Studio where Black Tenere
Mr. Ben Youssef explains, “Stureparken is a studio owned by musicians, one of them is a friend and fellow producer. The thing that is special about the studio is that it has a huge collection of keyboards, synths, guitars, basses and drums as well. All of them are vintage instruments, with some being rarer than others. The idea was to have more choices of good or weird sounding instruments. We were trying to find some special sounds and kept experimenting around that idea.”
He goes on, “I have been a rocker since my teens. I was trying to translate the Kel Assouf trio into a sound half way between its Nigerien roots and 70’s rock, but also stoner rock, which is a music I played for many years. The rhythmic parts and synths show something from my electronic alter-ego AMMAR 808. I tried to tie together my disparate influences: electronic, ambient and rock. It was a natural thing to do after playing with Kel Assouf for all these years. The sound of the album is inspired from the musicians and their personalities, including myself.”
Black Tenere swings back into rock grooves with “America” and “Amghar” before delving into the deliciously trippy “Ariyal.” This track doesn’t really start, but unfolds by way of opening cymbals and drums before electronica and keyboards take over and finally guitar lines emerge. By the time the full throat of the song emerges “Ariyal” is all savage coolness. Perhaps one of my own favorites on Black Tenere is “Taddout.” With spacey electronica and keyboards opening into lanky, open sky guitar licks and rolling rhythm “Taddout” comes across as preciously personal as intimate vocals sing about desert life with the lyrics”
I follow the traces of antelopes,
I live in the desert and its storms,
my favorite flower is that of acacia. It’s called Tabsit.
Its perfume is that of freedom and loneliness,
Far from the tumult of city life.
It is Anana Ag Haroun who sums it up, “Music is a weapon of war without violence. It is a claim for justice and it is also the soul of humanity. It brings together human beings from different cultures and different languages and from different countries. If we were to invest more in culture today and less in weapons, the world would be different. Music is peace for our souls.”
One of the rising stars of Tuareg desert blues, Mdou Moctar, is set to perform on Friday, January 18, 2019 at Gramps in Miami.
Nigerien Mdou Moctar is in position to become the next big guitar hero in Saharan Tuareg music, following in the footsteps of Tinariwen and Bombino. His discography includes Sousoume Tamachek and Afelan.
This concert is a part of Rhythm Foundation’s Festival in the Desert Caravan concert series.
10:00 pm – 11:59 pm
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.