gritty and hypnotizing desert music


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Raw, hypnotizing and full of power, the music of Al Bilali Soudan blows up any preconceptions. This is Tamasheq music, intense and gritty, cut to the bone, shaped by repetition, shouts, hand claps and continuous interweave of different lutes and percussion. These Malinese masters bring youth and energy with lightning fast mastery of traditional sounds, improvised and adapted into the 21st century. They not only electrified audiences in Mali, Morocco, USA and Europe, they also released three albums that have received raves reviews globally.

From Timbuktu, Al Bilali Soudan are members of an extended family of craftsmen who for generations have been sought after musicians and griots. Led by Abellau Yattara, the band is a torch-bearer of the quintessentially Tamasheq music style called tashigalt or takamba, which is shaped by a continuous exchange between the three-stringed tehardent (a kind of lute, also known as ngoni or tidinit in other areas) accompanied by percussive rhythm of the calabash.

Al Bilali Soudan have a multigenerational history as musicians. Among their influences is Ahmoudou Ag Intalokete, Abellow Yattara’s father. Other influences are Amano Ag Issa, the tehardent musician of the group Tartit, Ali Farka Toure, Khaira Arby, Fissa Maiga, Bassekou Kouyate, the band Super Onze de Gao and Afel Bocoum.

Takamba music has been performed from at least the 16th century by Touareg griots to celebrate the end of harvest and the changing of the seasons, to encourage warriors and to welcome them back from battles, to praise noble families and to heal the sick. Over centuries this music has evolved through fusion with other ethnic groups.

Born in 1953 in Timbuktu, Abellau Yattara is the elder and leader of the group. A master of this style he first learned to play the instrument at age 7 from his father. His performances are intense. He is accompanied by his uncle Aboubacrine Yattara, who similarly learned the instrument from his father. These two form the core of the group and have been performing together for decades. They are joined by their sons Mohamed Abellaw and Ibrahim Ag Aboubacrine. They bring youth and energy of a new generation to the music.

The group’s pride in their cultural heritage is manifest in the verve and complexity that they achieve.

The group’s name derives from Bilal ibn Rabah born in Mecca in 580. A contemporary of the Prophet Muhammed, Bilal was a former slave known for his voice with which he called people to prayer. One of Bilal’s descendants is said to have migrated to West Africa. Soudan derives from French Soudan, the former colony that became Mali. Thus the group’s name pays tribute to their Muslim background, their slave ancestry, and West Africa’s colonial history. The members of Al Bilali Soudan continue to live in Mali and work as craftsmen and musicians.

“If you like desert music enough to suspect you’ve heard it before, you haven’t” – Robert Christgau

“Hypnotic. Seductive. Mind-blowing. Words fail.” – Banning Eyre

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Francis de Souza



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