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Let Les Filles de Illighadad Introduce You to 'Desert Blues'

By Robert Baird |

It's a fascinating turn of musical history that some of the sounds that originally inspired American blues music are once again emanating from the north and west regions of Africa without—and this is key—minimal return influence from the New World.

Based around the folk music of the Taureg people and propelled into the 21st century by the rapid adoption and a tenacious love of the electric guitar, this so-called "desert blues" is one of international pop music's most exciting new streams. Named for their hometown of Illighadad in Niger, Fatou Seidi Ghali, (guitar, vocals) Alamnou Akrouni (percussion, vocals), Amaria Hamadalher (guitar, percussion) and the group's only male member Abdoulaye Madassane (guitar, vocals) make a collective sound that is all plucked guitars, chanted vocals and a stomping, jamming a style of repeated lines on top of a very persuasive groove. This is dance music, even if only for those who like boogie in place with themselves.

These six long tracks were recorded live at the Pioneer Works arts space in Red Hook, Brooklyn NYC by a quintet of engineers. Microphone placement, which could not have been easy with this many voices and electric guitars constantly playing, seems reasonably well thought out, the result being clean and well-separated. Built on a steady rhythmic underpinning, rolling jams like Shakara gain momentum with driving, repeated vocal lines, sung alone and in unison in Tamasheq. Electric guitar solos fill in the spaces between vocals. All three guitarists are skilled at single note picking and full of fertile string ideas. The overall effect in a piece like Eghass Malan is of both a joyous dance party and a near religious experience. Les Filles de Illighadad were discovered and continue to be produced by Sahel Sounds founder Christopher Kirkley who has taken great pains not to be seen as another Western cultural vulture out to exploit indigenous music.

While the studio albums are both worth more than a listen, this is music that must be heard live to truly be appreciated with the shuffling of feet and clapping of hands adding to the uplifting ambiance.

Listen to At Pioneer Works by Les Filles de Illighadad now on Qobuz!

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