Fascinating Sounds from the Sahara, Live in Brooklyn

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Not many bands travel 5,000 miles to record.

African band Les Filles de Illighadad (“Illighadad’s daughters”) from a village of the same name in Niger has been traveling the world for two years when they arrived in October 2019 to perform two concerts at the Pioneer Works arts center in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Fatou Seidi Ghali, who founded the group with vocalist Alamnou Akrouni, pioneer female guitarista rare thing among the Tuareg people of the Sahara. Les Filles performs at rock clubs, festivals and Library of Congress.

But the Brooklyn shows turned out to be something else.

“The audience was very special,” Akrouni said in an interview conducted via WhatsApp with the help of a translator earlier this month. The musicians predominantly speak Tamasheq, a Tuareg language. “There was clapping and dancing” in Brooklyn, sometimes as Western audiences watched the performance in silence – so much that the venue removed some of the chairs in the space between the first and second night, said Pioneer’s Justin Frye Works, music director for Justin Frye. . (The concerts were planned as sit-in shows, he said, but “people just couldn’t really stick to their seats.”)

“We’ve seen some Tuaregs from Mali clapping this much,” Ghali added. “If you play music and people don’t clap and sing with you like the people here, it won’t be so happy.”

This happiness, which group members describe as pushing them to do their best, is an “energy”, “Works at Pioneer Works”, an album of songs recorded at two concerts on the multi-channel equipment of the art center, was released this month. Les Filles de Illighadad’s voice takes on Tuareg guitar music sometimes referred to as desert bluebrought to the West by groundbreaking artists from the region. Mdou Moktar, bomb and Tinariwen and combine it with tendé, a style of chanting traditionally performed by women and sung to the accompaniment of goatskin drums. (Tendé is the name of both the drum and the music.)

The result is repetitive and hypnotic and means something spiritual and serious – a New Yorker article About the Pioneer Works shows, she described the songs as “prayer-like” – but also conveys a sense of joy and playfulness that goes back to the music’s roots in village life.

At a celebration like a wedding or the birth of a new baby, “there’s a lot of audience participation,” says Christopher Kirkley. Sahel Sounds Portland, Ore. based label released the LP in collaboration with Pioneer Works Press. “People walk and throw money at artists, or there are dancers who come forward and perform during a song.”

lyrics “irrigana”, the album’s final track and one of its standout tracks, even includes a brag targeting a musical opponent: “Who can he beat at Tendé?”

“Tendé always depends on competition,” said Ghali. “Every year, when the village is green, when it rains, they hold a competition every year to see which woman plays the best skin.”

“At Pioneer Works” is Les Filles de Illighadad’s third album with Kirkley, which started in 2009 from a blog he started to share field recordings from his African trips. Around 2014, she said she saw a photo of Ghali on Facebook – “she’s just holding this red guitar” – and was immediately curious. A few months later he was on his way to Niger and sent some messages to musicians he worked with in the area asking if anyone knew this female guitarist. One was Ahmoudou Madassane, who played rhythm guitar with Moctar.

“He said, ‘Oh, yes, he’s my cousin,'” Kirkley said. “He lives in the village of ‘Illighadad, we can go while you’re here.”

The self-titled album, shot as a field recording on this trip, was released in 2016. Ghali plays acoustic guitar in five of his songs; the sixth takes about 18 minutes and is titled simply “Tende”. In 2017, the band added two more members, guitarist Fitimata Hamadalher, known as Amaria, and Abdoulaye Madassane, rhythm guitarist and Les Filles’ only man, and began touring the world after their second album, “Eghass Malan.” In a studio in Europe.

But while things were changing rapidly for Les Filles de Illighadad in those years, the pandemic has largely restored them.

“We are back to the old life we ​​lived before we started the tour,” said Ghali. All three women are in different places in Niger – Akrouni is still in Illighadad, Ghali is now living in Abalak city and Hamadalher is in Agadez. “We never see each other.”

Sometimes, the WhatsApp interview felt like a virtual meeting. Emojis and image responses alternated between Ghali and Akrouni’s thoughtful responses. After joining late, Hamadalher said hello to his bandmates, apologized for sleeping too much, and made fun of Akrouni for letting his cell phone’s battery go too low.

“Seeing or meeting each other is really complicated,” Akrouni said. “Sometimes we talk on the phone but not that much. When we heard about the coronavirus, we thought it was over, we would never go on tour. We think everything will stop.”

Kirkley is cautiously optimistic that things can start again if the world cooperates; Les Filles de Illighadad has announced a UK tour for the fall and hoped the band could return to the United States in 2022. When Ghali first picked up an instrument or agreed to be recorded, it was not something Ghali had expected for himself. Under some trees in his village by a visitor from Portland.

“We didn’t even think we could go play at Abalak or Agadez,” he said. “Really, the project we did with the group was like a surprise to us. We did not think that one day we would play in France or America. When we started playing the music, we liked hanging out with our friends, playing a guitar and singing.”

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