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Mesmerizing Sounds From the Sahara, Live in Brooklyn

Mesmerizing Sounds From the Sahara, Live in Brooklyn
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Mesmerizing Sounds From the Sahara, Live in Brooklyn

Mesmerizing Sounds From the Sahara, Live in Brooklyn

Few groups travel 5,000 miles to make a record.

When the African group Les Filles de Illighadad (“the daughters of Illighadad”), from a village of the same name in Niger, arrived to give two concerts at the Pioneer Works arts center in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in October 2019, they had already been around the world for two years. Fatou Seidi Ghali, who created the group with singer Alamnou Akrouni, had been hailed as a pioneering woman guitarist, a rarity among the Tuaregs of the Sahara. The Girls had performed in rock clubs, festivals in Europe and at the Library of Congress.

But the Brooklyn shows turned out to be something else.

“The audience was very special,” Akrouni said in an interview earlier this month, conducted via WhatsApp with the help of a translator. The musicians mainly speak Tamasheq, a Tuareg language. While at times Western audiences watched the show quietly, in Brooklyn, she said, “there was applause and dancing” – so much so that the venue pulled out some of the chairs in the space between the premiere. and the second night, said Justin Frye, Pioneer Music Director of the Works. (The concerts were planned as seated shows, he said, but “people couldn’t really stay tied to their seats.”)

Ghali said: “We saw Tuaregs from Mali clapping so much,” adding: “If you play music and people don’t clap and sing along with you like people here, it won’t be as well. happy.”

That happiness, an “energy” that band members described as pushing them to perform their best, can be found on “At Pioneer Works,” an album released this month featuring songs recorded at both concerts on the multitrack arts center equipment. The sound of the Daughters of Illighadad takes the Tuareg guitar music sometimes called desert blues, brought to the West by revolutionary artists from the region such as Mdou Moctar, Bombino and Tinariwen, and merges it with the tendé, a style of singing traditionally performed by women and accompanied by a goatskin drum. (Tendé is the name of both the drum and the music.)

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The result is repetitive and hypnotic, and conveys something witty and solemn – a New Yorker article on Pioneer Works shows described the songs as “like a prayer” – but also conveys a sense of joy and playfulness. which goes back to the roots of music in village life.

At a celebration like a wedding or the birth of a newborn, “there is a lot of public engagement,” said Christopher Kirkley, whose record label Sahel Sounds, based in Portland, Ore., Released the LP in collaboration with Pioneer Works Press. . “People come up and throw money at the artists, or there are dancers who come in during a song and perform.”

The lyrics to “Irriganan,” the album’s last song and one of its stars, even include a boast aimed at a musical rival, translated as, “Who could she defeat in tendé?”

“Tendé is always committed to the competition,” said Ghali. “Every year, when it’s green in the village, when it rains, every year, they organize a competition to see which woman is the best at playing tendé.

“At Pioneer Works” is the third album Les Filles de Illighadad released with Kirkley, whose label grew out of a blog he created in 2009 to share field recordings of his trips to Africa. Around 2014, he said, he saw a photo of Ghali on Facebook – “just her holding that red guitar” – and was immediately curious. He traveled to Niger a few months later and sent messages to the musicians he had worked with in the region, asking them if any of them knew this woman guitarist. One was Ahmoudou Madassane, who played rhythm guitar with Moctar.

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“He said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s my cousin,’” Kirkley said. “She lives in the village of Illighadad, we can go there when you’re here. “

The eponymous album captured as a field recording on this trip was released in 2016. Five of his songs feature Ghali playing the acoustic guitar; the sixth lasts almost 18 minutes and is called simply “Tende”. In 2017, the group added two more members – guitarist Fitimata Hamadalher, known as Amaria, and Abdoulaye Madassane, a rhythm guitarist and the Girls’ only man – and began to travel the world behind “Eghass Malan” , his second album, recorded in a studio in Europe.

But as quickly as things changed for The Daughters of Illighadad over the years, the pandemic changed them largely back.

“We’re back in our old life that we lived before we started touring,” Ghali said. The three women are all in different places in Niger – Akrouni still in Illighadad, Ghali now living in the town of Abalak and Hamadalher in Agadez. “We never see each other. “

Sometimes the WhatsApp interview felt like a virtual meeting. Emojis and picture reactions moved back and forth between Ghali and Akrouni’s thoughtful responses. After joining late, Hamadalher greeted his group mates, apologized for sleeping too much, and teased Akrouni for leaving his cell phone battery too low.

“It’s really complicated to see each other or to meet,” Akrouni said. “We talk to each other on the phone sometimes, but not that much. When we heard about the coronavirus, we said to ourselves that it was over, we would never go on tour. We think everything will stop.

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Kirkley is cautiously optimistic that things can start again if the world co-operates; The Daughters of Illighadad have announced a UK tour for the fall, and he was hoping the group could return to the US in 2022. It wasn’t something Ghali expected for herself when she took on. an instrument for the first time or has agreed to be recorded. by a visitor from Portland under trees in his village.

“We didn’t even think we could go play Abalak or Agadez,” she said. “Really, our project with the group was like a surprise for us. We didn’t think that one day we would go and play in France or America. When we first started playing music, we just liked spending time with our friends, playing guitar and singing.

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