Noura Mint Seymali ‘Tzenni’ (Glitterbeat Records) 23rd June 2014
The technicalities, pentatonic melodies and the fundamental mechanics aside, nothing can quite prepare you for that opening atavistic, panoramic vocal, and off-kilter kick-drum and snare; an ancestral linage that reaches back a thousand odd years, given the most electric crisp production, magically restores your faith in finding new music that can resonate and move you in equal measure.
The afflatus titular experience channeled with energetic passion and poetic lament, revolves around the whirling – and at its peak moment of epiphany, a fervor – dance. Performed over time under the desert skies and khaima tents, by the Moorish griots, this cyclonic Hassaniya worded movement (which variously translates as, ‘to circulate’, ‘to spin’ or ‘to turn’) that enacts the orbiting solar system and with it all the elements (wind and tides) on Earth, is hypnotically invigorating.
From the German label, Glitterbeat Records, this latest Maghreb African transmission follows in the wake of the equally compelling electric transcendent desert blues of Tamikrest, Dirt Music, Samba Touré and the Bedouin diaphanous song of Aziza Brahim. Tzenni by Noura Mint Seymali and her accompanying clan make suggestive musical and social/political connections with all of these groups and artists. Hailing from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, nestled in between Algeria, Senegal, Mali and the Western Sahara, with the Atlantic lapping its shoreline, Noura keeps tradition alive in a modern, tumultuous, climate. Her homeland – run ever since a coup in 2008, by the former general Mohamed Ould Abdul Aziz, duly elected president in 2009 – was rocked by the immolation sparked Arab Spring and subsequent youth movement protests, all of which were violently suppressed by the authorities. Add the omnipresent problems of FGM, child labour and human trafficking to the equation and you have enough catalysts to last a lifetime. However, Noura’s veracious commanding voice responds with a dualistic spirit, the balance of light and shade putting a mostly positive, if not thumping backbeat, to forlorn and mourning.
Recorded in New York, Dakar and in the Mauritania capitol, Nouakchott, the album transverses a cosmopolitan map of influences and musical escapism. The original heritage still remains strong, yet the ancient order of griot finds solace with the psychedelic and beyond. Noura’s family linage is one of the regions most celebrated; her father, Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, was instrumental in bringing Mauritanian music to the outside world, her late stepmother, who the whole nation mourned, was the great Dimi Mint Abba. Noura would serve an apprenticeship with Dimi, and later strike up an inspired union with her husband, the visionary guitarist Jeiche Ould Chighaly, whose dune-shifting amorphous flange-delivered licks and spindly fingered riffs create a kosmiche alien landscape, flirting with both rock and the blues. No less respected, the bass and drums combo of Ousamane Touré and Matthew Tinari bring the funk and groove.
Moving at a momentum and seamlessly across these musical boundaries, the band articulate a mostly uplifting exultation to turbulence and instability, steering through Amon Duul II and Ash Ra Tempel like field studies on the groups break out titular anthem, meditatively channeling the wah-wah delta blues on ‘El Mougelmen’, and paying homage to the prophet with an epic vocal note holding hymn to forgiveness, ‘Soub Hanallah’.
Noura Mint Seymali will undoubtedly follow Tamikrest’s success in reaching across the divide. The Northern Mali electric-blues Tuareg’s, in no small part brought to attention by the escalations in the country’s insurgency and later containment by the former colonists, France, last year wowed new, less keen world music fans. Though obviously a result of its own unique history and culture, Noura’s sound is congruous with that of both Tamikrest and Aziza Brahim – vocally. Like those artists, she will undoubtedly find a receptive, ever hungry for horizons new, audience.