Tag Archives: inshallah

The Diva of the Sahel…

After much reassurance that our new friend was a trustworthy chaperon to lead us on our musical outing, Aiwa the President of the Human Rights Association we were staying with finally agreed, ‘ok, you may go, but you must be back by 11 pm’.

It was already 9 pm and feeling rather limited by the mothering Imran replied quite perfectly, ‘Inshallah‘. Aiwa flashed a grin in our direction and nodded.

Armed with a guitar, camera and sound recorder we made our way through the dusty cratered streets of Nouakchott to the house of a family we had been told were great traditional Mauritanian musicians. Jeick Ould Chighaly welcomed us with warmth as we entered the busy household. Scattered around the generous sitting room were instruments of Mauritania. Jeick approached us with his electric guitar.

It as a quarter-tone guitar’ he casually exclaimed.

Jeich Ould Chighaly plays his quater-tone guitarImrans eyes lit up as he cradled the guitar in his arms and explored each fret, twice as many as on a standard guitar. Jeick watched content at the shared enthusiasm.

With so many notes at his disposition, Jeick’s playing style is somewhere between the desert blues of Ali Farka Touré and a proficient oud player. After playing the electric guitar he then demonstrated his agility on the tidinit, a Mauritanian lute almost identical to the ngoni. We sat mesmarised by the improvised lines that could rival Bassekou Kouyaté‘s.

As Jeick played to us his intimate audience Noura his wife and fellow musician joined us. With little more than a brief salam Noura picked up the ardine and began to brush across its strings with eloquent skill. As she played we sat in awe of the beautiful harp-like sound.

Noura's hands

The ardine is a 20-string harp with similar ancestry to the Kora. Unlike its Mande cousin, the ardine is played exclusively by women. In the region of West Africa where instrumentation is dominated by men, this female tradition is unique to Mauritania.

Ardine

Noura Mint Seymali and her husband are very successful musicians both in Mauritania and on an international level, playing at Festival au Desert amongst many others. Her voice is rich and deep with resonating strength, Noura tells of of how she is not afraid to mix Griot traditions with other sounds,

‘On my album, I have traditional songs that are recorded as reggae pieces with drums, bass and saxophone’, she says with a smile.

But there is little talking, soon it is our turn to play. As we finish sipping our tea we play my song ‘Wine Merchant‘. There is no discussion of who we are, our cultures or traditions, yet a sense of musical connection hold on to us for the a couple of hours before Imran and I are forced to leave for our 11 pm curfew.

Noura invites us to form some kind of music project together, presumably blending our styles, Imran and I are instant to accept. We are forced to explain our visa situation, expecting this to be a major problem but Noura simply tells us to come back or they will meet with us in Mali. Relaxed to feel a natural sense of this only being the first meeting we would share we said our goodbyes, but not before I was welcomed to play the Ardine and presented with a gift of a stunning Mulafa (the traditional dress of the Moor women in Mauritania).

Mikaela and Jeich

Cross-legged I clumsily plucked at the strings without a trace of the beauty and grace that Noura had displayed. Jeick sat with me and in the last moment of the evening we played the traditional song ‘Wading Deep Water’ with Jeick accompany on tidinit.

We parted leaving Jeick and his beautiful wife, Noura the Diva of the Sahel in Mauritania, the country we were only just beginning to discover.

Noura Mint Seymaly and Jeich Ould Chighali

UPDATE: since we wrote this blog Noura Mint Seymali has released a new CD (September 2013)!

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Western Sahara: still waiting for independence…

Mohamed screws his face as I mention ‘Western Sahara’,

It is Moroccan Sahara’ he proclaims with his hand in the air, dismayed at my ignorance.

‘Well yes, I understand the Moroccan-Polisario problems and the occupation…’

‘No, it is not an occupation. How could we occupy our own territory?’

Mohameds view is not unusual, most Moroccans beleive they share a historical connection with the desert and its people. But like it or not, the will for independance in this region is very much alive.

Rachid is Saharwi, born and raised close to the Algerian border.

‘This problem was the making of the Spanish colonisers, now the Moroccans control us, but this is wrong, the Saharawis’ people deserve and want freedom’.

Formerly a Spanish colony the region was subject to something of a scramble for its resources at de-colinisation with both Mauritania and Morocco making claims for the territory. In 1975 the International Court of Justice ruled to reject these claims and recognised the Saharwis’ right to independence. However, this right remains a distant promise to more than 100,000 refugees who remain displaced.

I shake the hand of Rachid, ‘You support Polisario. Its good to meet someone who supports Polisario’. He accepts the handshake and holds my hand as he continues to explain, ‘It is not easy to talk about these things.’ Rachid is not wrong, here in Western Sahara Polisario are outlawed, just to fly their flag is a criminal offense.

But you see Polisario are not terrorists, they are the army of the Saharwis people. They fight for our freedom.’

Whilst the guerilla war faught by Polisario has been brought to cease fire since 1991 the progress of the United Nations mission here (Minurso) can only be described as at a stalemate. For years they have attempted to find a method to identify eligible voters in the region so as to carry out a referendum which in theory would end the conflict, giving the people the choice between independence or Moroccan integration.

But Morocco know that they have done little to win hearts and minds in the Sahara and given the wealth of natural resources at stake (including possible off-shore oil reserves), its no suprise that they have done their best to sabotage the referendums proceedings and increase the strength of their 35 year occupation here.

Mohamed may tell you that this territory rightfully belongs to Morocco, that their is a special relationship and that Morocco is providing valuable economic prospects to the region and its people. But ask a Saharwis and he will speak of another story, one of human rights abuses, riddled with bully tactics, an oppressive regime led by a suffocating military presence and a powerful neighbour willing to go to any length to gain valuable resources.

The desire for independence is in the eye of the Saharwi as he passes the military checkpoint and embrace of the Polisario supporter who holds my hand in his,

‘Inshallah, one day we will have our freedom’.