Tuareg guitar music as a genre is increasingly familiar outside of the desert. But the origins of the music are in the tende. The tende (previously) is a water drum, formed out mortar and pestle, stretched across with animal skin. It falls into that designation as traditional, though I would offer “village music” as it retains a dominant role, particularly in the countryside; accompanying village celebration, but also a therapeutic and curative trance inducing music.
Les Filles de Illighadad differs from the multitude of guitar bands and tende troupes in their curious bridging of these worlds. Guitarist Fatou Seidi Ghali, one of only two female guitarists in Niger in a overtly male dominated genre, leads the troupe with songs adopted from the tende repertoire – making them one of the few groups to pursue this path. After 30 some years of ishumar guitar, it’s a curious and exciting development.
The new record of Fatou Seidi Ghali and Alamnou Akrouni – Les Filles de Illighadad – might be called “traditional music,” for lack of a better word. It’s that music that fills the day to day aspect, a constant familiar sound. It’s hard to talk about, because its corollarly so clearly does not exist in the industrial centers or the so-called “Western” world. It’s rural music. It’s village music. It’s music for when you don’t have electricity, immediate Youtube access to every recorded sound. It’s music that exists when performance trumps playback. The term village music or rural music might be better, as any claims to it’s authenticity or “traditionalist” elements would be work apart.
Fatou and Alamnou live in the aforementioned village, a tiny assemblance of mud houses thrown together in the scrubby Sahel of central Niger. The desert is vibrant and green at this time of year, after the rains have parched the otherwise thirsty landscape. The desert here is cyclical, and follows a predictable schedule.
Fatou plays an old blue guitar, chipped and dried, slightly bent. The extremes of weather are not easy on musical instruments. The village of Illighadad is a world apart from Agadez, from Niamey – both major cities in their own right, dense with people, noise, and the trappings of modernity. Fatou’s guitar speaks to a different pace. The days in Illighadad are long, and time is not measured by hours, meetings, or even by the muezzins prayer call – but by the suns passage, the movement of the animals, and the sound of the crickets.
Fatou’s guitar music is remarkable in some way because of identity. As one of only two Tuareg female guitarists in what is a male dominated genre, this was indeed my initial interest in coming to Illighadad. But Fatou exists far away from genre classifications. While she plays the guitar in the day, it is the tende at night – a reminder of the village music that inspired the guitar, and continues to do so. It reads to me as a suggestion that the two musics can and do exist simultaneously. And that different worlds may as well.