(mango MLPS 9697)
Sometimes, I only find out what’s happening in OUTSIDELEFT the same way you do. Maybe a post in Facebook’s Outsideleft Facebook Friends, a push notification, or an email. I was thrilled to see the Tim London LP review of Music From Saharan WhatsApp (Sahel Sounds) pop up on my radar.
I loved Tim’s piece so much that, after listening on Bandcamp, I went to my record room and dug out Sounds d’Afrique - the first piece of vinyl featuring the music of Africa I’d ever owned. That LP opened my ears as the popular early dance samples proclaimed “a journey into sound”.
Sadly, the only real African journey I’ve managed to undertake so far has been to Marrakech. Once, the famous/infamous football manager Gordon Lee summed up many people's then view of what Africa is, or is not, when, upon arriving in Tunisia, he commented “Africa, we’re not in bloody Africa are we?” Well sorry mate but you were in “Bloody Africa”.
To an extent, Gordon's comments typify the white Western view of Africa and while I’d love to share Tim’s hope’s that Africa’s, and especially the music of the Sahel will conquer the world, as a musical Afrophile, I’ve seen several African waves crash on the beaches of utter indifference from most self-declared music lovers and more, I don't let that dims my passion though.
Charlie Gillett and Andy Kershaw used to be a way into this world, but death and marital disputes have a way of removing people from the mainstream media. As a crusty, it’s radio, and the hard, hard copies that I enjoy, buying is essentially a commitment.
There are western performers who have with honesty dipped their toes in Saharan sounds, and promoted the musicians, Robert Plant, (yes the Led Zeppelin atonal screamer), and the imperious Ry Cooder’s work with Ali Farka Touré. But even with this august support, the glorious music of the Sahel still falls on deaf western ears, as barren as the Saharan sands themselves.
But that said this is a great intro to the music, and I’d echo Tim’s passion, I’ve loved Ali Farka Touré ‘desert blues’. You can hear how his music traveled the Atlantic, hidden in the plantations, morphed into John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and back to Led Zeppelin. Tinariwen are also a must listen, and a great intro to the music of Mali, of the freedom fighters of the Polisario Front, part of the Sahel, originally Spanish Sahara, seized by Morocco on the collapse of Franco’s dictatorship in the 70s. Ever since there’s been a slow, low-key, Civil War, and many of the Sahal sounds reflect this struggle for citizen rights and self-determination.
This dispute serves to exemplify some of the post-imperial, thereby, cultural legacies of the region, which are both complex and wonderfully diverse, there are performers, long established, and hugely popular in France. Algerian Superstar, Cheb Khaled comes to mind, (incidentally as a result of having a fatwa declared on him by Algerian Clerics, his London gig was the ONLY gig where I, and the audience have been ‘hand held metal detector’ scanned on entering the theatre. And yes it was awesome, his album “Khaled” is a classic in 90’s high-tech Arab pop that blared out of Turkish and Eastern Medd bars everywhere at the time.
Of course no listen to the music of the Sahel would be complete without the Master Musicians of Jajouka from high in the Atlas Mountains, their wonderful sounds captured the heart of Brian Jones, and more recently entranced the soul of Robert Plant. If you’re a rocker, uncertain if you want to take a dip in the Sahel world, try the Robert Plant & Jimmy Page CD ‘No quarter’ from the mid-90s. It’s an easy sound bridge, but beware this could lead you down paths, and alleys where sound bounces, reverbs, and astounds into Souks of Tunis, the Bazaars of Marrakech, and the tea shops of Timbuktu. Nirvana, The Clash and Coldplay will be filed and forgotten.
This music travels, like the ancient Touareg traveled, exchanging spices for salt, gold for cotton, and strings for flutes, with drum tones honed and merged into an old style, ancient rooted, but utterly contemporary. After Tim’s Top Sahel Tips, have wetted your taste buds, scoff extra musically courses.
To complement Tim’s ethereal Sahel sounds, I recommend three CDs as a way into more of these delightful sounds, that contain the roots of much that we all love.
Rough Guide to the Music of Mali (RGNET 1208 CD)
Tea in Marrakech (STEW 44 CD)
Rough Guide to Desert Blues (RGNET 1228 CD)
Cheers for the inspiration Tim.
See a Sufi-101 from Joe Ambrose, here