Words by Martin Longley
The latest ascending Saharan star comes not from Mali, as you might expect, but from Mauritania. Singer and griot Noura Mint Seymali began her career as a backing vocalist for her stepmother, the great Dimi Mint Abba, and can immediately be awarded her own prime position in the firmament. The album is produced by Matthew Tinari, who is also the band’s drummer, and it was recorded in Brooklyn by Tony Maimone, a former member of Pere Ubu. Sessions also took place in Senegal and Mauritania. The guitarist is Seymali’s husband, Jeiche Ould Chighaly, whose cranked-up circular riffs are balanced by the singer’s ardine, a small harp-like gourd instrument.
This Moorish music is toughened up by a rock carapace, its groove levitating the upfront vocals, bathed in a tight echo, serrated by distorted guitar. Tinari has harnessed the crackle of a marketplace cassette-stall sound system, but framed it with some New York studio sheen. The album opens with one of its strongest melodies, then ‘El Barm’ engages in an extended frenzy of passion, with loping bass and scissoring hi-hats. Phased guitar accompanies heat-shimmer vocals on ‘El Madi’, then Seymali sings against an ongoing psychedelic axe-spiral during ‘El Mougelem’. Seymali’s voice is particularly agile on the closing track, with hard stops switching to stratospheric vibrato, all within the same line.