When I listen to Avital Raz, I hear the traditional folk storytelling of artists like Bob Dylan with a modern twist and some dark humor. The Israeli singer-songwriter, now based in Sheffield, tells poignant stories with simple acoustic playing and some nice orchestral touches. Read up on her fascinating career so far here.
“a vocal artist who travels across many genres. Her songs may resemble old English lute songs, Indian Classical Ragas, Cabaret, Blues or Eastern-European Jewish melodies. A multi-cultured get-together of many strange characters, all rolled up into one quirky singer-songwriter.”
The latest Sahelsounds release is a collection of songs by Tuareg rock band Afous D’Afous, one of the Sahara’s best guitar bands and a leading group of what we know as “desert blues” in the West. Based in Tamanrasset in southern Algeria, Afous D’Afous’ music is more upbeat and pop-sounding compared to the serious and heady grooves of Tinariwen, who are probably the most famous Tuareg rock group outside Africa.
“In the past decade, there has been an explosion of ethnically Tuareg rock bands on the world music stage. Built around the electric guitar, the genre ranges from stripped down minimalist nostalgia filled ballads to distortion heavy tracks for dancing. Known collectively in the West as “desert blues” for its pentatonic scales and finger styles that recall Americana, in the Sahara it’s simply known as “guitar.” The style has emerged as contemporary pop music back home and today there are hundreds of bands, playing locally in weddings and public celebrations. The effect of the world music industry is not lost on the Sahara however, and the Western music market still maintains dominance over the Tuareg guitar scene. For the majority of Tuareg “guitar” bands, success still comes via the West. Artists travel abroad to record albums, and there are no shortage of indie-rock heavyweights anxious to jump into the role of producer.
An exception to the rule is Kader Tarhanine’s group “Afous D’Afous.” This six person rock outfit from Tamanrasset in southern Algeria is by all accounts unknown in world music circles. However, at home in the Tuareg community, they are without a doubt the most celebrated, famous, and in demand group, second only to Tinariwen. Kader Tarhanine rose to popularity in 2010, with his recording of a song “Tarhanine Tegla” (My Love is Gone). The track, a low-fi love ballad, recorded with a crunchy electric guitar over a pacing drum machine, went on to become an anthem throughout the diaspora (earning Kader the nickname “Kader Tarhanine”). In 2015, Kader formed his group “Afous D’Afous” and traveled to Algiers to record the full length debut “Tenere.” The 9 track album was released on CD in a limited run in-country, accompanied by a huge press rollout. The band appeared on Algerian national television, quickly becoming a country favorite and representative of the Tuareg ethnic minority. The album quickly disseminated throughout the diaspora, traded on cellphones in the conflicted Azawad, beamed through private WhatsApp pirate networks, and soundtracking smuggler’s routes, blasting from Land Cruisers at high speeds through the border zones of the open desert.
“Tenere” is a departure from the rest of the contemporary Tuareg rock albums. Of the myriad of Tuareg releases that have caught the ear of the West, only a tiny few are produced at home, sans Western producers. “Tenere” offers some of the most complex compositions in the genre to date, tightly arranged and polished. There is something sonically throwback, though Afous D’Afous crawled out of 70s rock studio album. It is long cited that Tuareg rock styles are largely inspired from heavyweights Dire Straits. This may be the most true to form rock album to date, and there is certainly a few riffs that recall Mark Knopfler. The electric guitar, front and center, drives the tracks with uptempo rhythms, all led by the soulful voice of Kader, measured and balanced with the chorus call and response. In addition to this classic rock aesthetic, the production adds some unlikely elements, reflective of contemporary globalism – layering pitch bending North African synthesizer, reverb saturated dub, and even Indian tabla and sitar!
While Tuareg guitar has become a commodity in the world music industry, Afous D’Afous has continued to in relative obscurity, all while remaining one of the most popular guitar outfits amongst Tuareg fans. They tour constantly throughout the Sahara to sold out crowds in Bamako, Niamey, and Agadez. They have yet to tour abroad. The irony is not lost on the band, and we’re excited for the opportunity to partner with them to correct this glaring oversight.
The remastered Sahel Sounds release of “Tenere” pulls together the complete recordings from their debut album, available for the first time outside of the diaspora. The vinyl edition of 1000 features old school 3-color offset printed jackets.”
‘Top WZN’ is another Sahelsounds collection that focuses on Mauritanian WZN (instrumental music), a sort of pop music for this West African country. Both Jeich Ould Badu and Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla are masters in their own right at the manipulated lute and the Arabic scaled pitch synth that, played together, sound oddly soothing in its freakouts and delicate tempos – you can never tell where the songs will go, which keeps you on your toes.
“The album (originally released on cassette in 2009) showcases Jeich Ould Badu and Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla, playing a signature genre of instrumental music. Known as اوزان (transliterized as “alwazan” “wezen” or “wzn”), literally translated as “rhythm,” it colloquially refers to a contemporary genre of instrumental music, defined by synthesizers, electric guitars and lutes, and electronic drum patterns. Jeich Ould Badu is from a celebrated family of griots, and learned to play music at a young age. He plays the tidnit, the traditional Hassaniya lute – modified and updated, the goat skin replaced by flattened tin, and hacked together with phaser pedals and built in pre-amps. Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla is one of the most well known keyboard musicians in Mauritania. He plays an Arabic moded synthesizer capable of the quarter tone scales adapted from the fretless strings of classical Moorish traditions.
Popular Mauritanian music is often performed publicly with large troupes of guitarists, tidnits, synthesizers, and multiple rhythm sections. But in the past decade, the influx of small recording studios and a booming cassette industry has led to artist driven productions. WZN has followed suit, and has been transformed into an established genre. The slick studio sound, warbling tidnit, and microtones of the synthesizer are an integral part of today’s musical landscape, blasting from open air music shops and taxi cabs throughout the capital.”
Sahelsounds / Jeich Ould Badu & Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla:
I’ve recently discovered the wonderful Pakapi Records, an Argentina-based label that focuses on promoting South American artists. The standout for me so far is this 2015 collaboration between Sebastian Sampieri (Sampieri) and Guillermo M. Cerredo (GMC). ‘Sampieri & GMC,’ when you’re in the right mindset, is a blissed-out collage of psychedelic free folk.
“This new lysergic adventure is a blunt split plagued by experimental music, sampledelia, electronic and acoustic sounds, synthesizing a cross of folcklore, tribal mantras to pure electronic and a narcotic and descriptive shared collage.”
‘This is Kologo Power!,’ another winning compilation from sahelsounds, takes us to Bolgatanga, Ghana. Here the instrument of choice is the kologo, a type of lute from Northern Ghana that’s most popular in Bolgatanga. The instrument is small – two strings played on a thin neck – yet it holds a sort of tension that’s capable of a fierceness and blueness comparable to the banjo.
You can read more about the album via sahelsounds – the compilation still holds up almost a year after its release.
From the Bandcamp bio:
“A BOLGATANGA GHANA COMPILATION’. This compilation is an African initiative. King Ayisoba once told Makkum Records: ‘I want to make the world love kologo music like Bob Marley made the world love reggae music.’ Most of the tracks on this album were recorded in studios in Ghana. Some are sung in Frafra, others in pidgin English. Some are with a live band and some feature just solo kologo and voice. But all the songs represent a force and unveil a very strong musical power. The connection between kologo music and (delta) blues has been made more than once and that resemblance is not written on ice; the personal and the social messages, the strong rhythms, the push that this instrument -with only two strings spanned over a goatskin on a calabash- can give to people to make sure they don’t ignore the dance floor, all that makes it worth the effort of putting together at least one kologo compilation.”
What would Joni Mitchell sound like covering Nick Drake with Bon Iver’s banjo player and percussionist? Whatever that is, Buenos Aires’ Karina Vismara would smoke ’em. She has a voice, and it’s never caught trying to justify boring guitar playing or any old trick we’ve heard a million times. Vismara’s secret weapon is in her writing, for she knows when to move from haunting coffee-shop fingerpicking folkie to I’m Gonna Bang And Wail On My Guitar And Scream Without Raising My Voice And I Will Devour The Pin That You Can Hear Drop When I Play. She’s that good.
Very few 23-year-old folk singers are ever compared to Bill Callahan, but Peter Oren is not like most folk singers.
With a calming, deep voice that is matched by his observant and direct lyrics, Oren follows in the footsteps of the politically-minded protest folk singer-songwriters who came before him (Dylan in his Greenwich days, Phil Ochs, etc) while making his own way with his atmospheric…