Words: Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail - Noura Mint Seymali

Noura Mint Seymali   ‘Arbina’
Released by Glitterbeat Records,  16th September 2016

Emerging from the shifting sand-dune landscape of Mauritania in 2014 with one of the year’s most captivating, and at times almost uniquely otherworldly, albums, Tzenni, the griot chanteuse Noura Mint Seymali is back with an equally intoxicating embodiment of the ‘trans-Saharan’ culture and spiritual worship.

Rightly placed in our choice albums of 2014 list, Tzenni was a hypnotic and psychedelic funk of originality, guided by the atavistic calling of Noura’s griot dynastic lineage yet cross-pollinating a cornucopia of musical ideas to create something…well, something we’ve never quite heard before.

Continuing to in-trance, constantly moving in a rotating spell, Noura’s follow-up Arbina, we’re told, ‘delves deeper into the wellspring’ of her Moorish roots. And with recent tumultuous events, not only in West Africa but also throughout an increasingly unsecure world, Noura reaches for the divine: the album title of Arbina being an appellation for God. A musical act of devotion, channelling worship and attempting to reach outside herself, the desert songstress is using her loud reverberating voice to empower women; encouraging in particular, early screening for breast and uterine cancer (a disease that claimed Noura’s mother at an early age).

With a familiar signature of drowsy slinking low-end bass lines, propulsive swirling breakbeat drums and tremolo quivering spindly alien guitar (provided by Noura’s husband, the adroit masterful Jeiche Ould Chighaly), there’s a certain confidence and refinement on this, the second of Noura’s international releases. Closer in momentum and candour to the previous album’s ‘El Barm’ and ‘El Mougelmen’ tracks, Arbina widens its scope; stretching the desert blues and psych funk template to accommodate twangs and inspirations from further afield. Always at one with the textures and contours of her homeland, the time signatures also continue to breezily, almost surreptitiously, change at will, with many of the songs on this album changing from one rhythm to the next halfway through.

Photo Credit: Joe Penney.

Photo Credit: Joe Penney.

The outstanding spindly quarter tone phrasing technique of Chighaly’s spaced-out guitar, which purposefully emulates the sound of the Moorish lute (called a Tidinit) is one minute in the Louisiana swamp, the next bounding and bouncing off a lunar landscape; cross-referencing Funkadelic’s mothership with a Bedouin caravan, as Ousmane Touré’s bass straddles the coolness of Robbie Shakespeare languid dub notes and uptempo Afro-funk. But it’s Noura’s amplified vocals that resonates the loudest; the poetic and lyrical storytelling griot tradition thrust into a new century with renewed energy and musicality. Passionate throughout yet attentive and controlled, that melodious voice is even richer and soulful than before. Working in a circular movement, Noura’s vocals are both celestial and earthly, as the lingering songs of veneration and guidance flow in waves or, repeat in an impressive breathless mantra.

Picking up more and more accolades, recently appearing at Glastonbury as part of The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians tour, Noura is (deservedly so) a shining light in experimental, innovative, African music. Her second LP for Glitterbeat Records is a progressive step-up, continuing to take desert blues to another level.

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