Posts Tagged ‘Noura Mint Seymali’

Voices of Africa

Posted on April 5th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


The cover of the May 2017 issue of Songlines (#127) is graced by Oumou Sangaré, the Malian superstar who has returned with her first album in eight years and speaks to Pierre Cuny about returning to the recording studio and the themes that inspire her songs. To celebrate the latest issue, we’ve produced this special online focus featuring interviews with just a few of the most exciting African female singers today – including Lura (pictured) – drawn from the Songlines archive, which you can explore below…



Alexandra Petropoulos speaks to Gambian kora player and singer Sona Jobarteh about the musical journey that has taken her through traditional griot music and Western classical performance, and how it led to the creation of her country’s first school dedicated to Mande music. (Photo by Mateusz Bral)

Sona Jobarteh: Modern Griot



The Cape Verdean singer Lura talks to Daniel Brown about her heritage, Cesaria’s legacy and why she’s a responsible rebel. (Photo by N’Krumah Lawson-Daku)

Lura: Cape Verde’s First Lady



From Adam and Eve to empowering women across the world – there’s not much that Angélique Kidjo doesn’t have an opinion about. Jane Cornwell meets to the irrepressible singer

Angélique Kidjo: the indomitable spirit of Africa



Nigel Williamson speaks to the Malian singer about her career, which has been dedicated to offering African women a voice and correcting gender inequalities

Oumou Sangaré: a beginner’s guide



Fatoumata Diawara is the latest rising Malian singing star. She chats to Rose Skelton and explains about how she found her voice. (Photo by Youri Lenquette)

Fatoumata Diawara: “my voice was my first companion”



Robin Denselow speaks to singer Noura Mint Seymali about how she’s helping Mauritanian music to evolve, and introducing international audiences to its rich tradition

Noura Mint Seymali: the modern voice of Mauritania



The bright star rising from West Africa in the form of Noura Mint Seymali is just one of the continent’s long and impressive list of women singers. Nigel Williamson picks ten favourite albums

Songlines Essential 10: African Queens

Tags: , , , , , .

Noura Mint Seymali: the modern voice of Mauritania

Posted on March 30th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


Robin Denselow speaks to singer Noura Mint Seymali about how she’s helping Mauritanian music to evolve, and introducing international audiences to its rich tradition

As one of the international celebrities of the Mauritanian music scene, Noura Mint Seymali is used to big occasions. But this is something special. It’s the second performance in a historic and emotional concert tour in which the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians are joined by Damon Albarn and an impressive and unlikely line-up of Western and African musicians. There are 90 musicians on stage at London’s Royal Festival Hall for Albarn’s latest Africa Express project, and the range of music reflects the extraordinary cast on stage. There are Syrian songs from an orchestra and choir whose members are now scattered across the world, thanks to the chaos in their homeland, with some still living in Damascus, but many now refugees far from home. There are songs from Paul Weller and from Albarn, who is backed by the Malian ngoni star Bassekou Kouyaté and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita. And then there’s a rousing solo from Noura, who comes on dressed in red robes and headscarf.

She launches into ‘Richa’, a song from her new album Arbina, and almost at once the audience are clapping and urging her on. She is in powerful, confident voice, but until yesterday morning, when the tour kicked off on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival, she had never performed the song like this before. Normally she is backed by a three-piece band, featuring her husband Jeiche Ould Chighaly on guitar, but now she has the Syrian orchestra behind her, with the ney (flute) providing a powerful solo in place of Jeiche’s guitar.

Earlier, talking backstage, she says that the Syrians found the song easy to learn. It was written by her father, the celebrated composer Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall; was performed by her equally celebrated step-mother, the great Dimi Mint Abba (1958-2011), “and it’s a classic,” she says. “A song that everyone in Mauritania knows. It’s about the power of music and the source of inspiration.”

Noura first met the Africa Express team when her band were playing at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark last year and were invited to join Albarn’s collective on stage. At the time she was on tour promoting her first international release Tzenni (reviewed in #102), a gutsy, declamatory set in which she demonstrated her exuberant vocal style, with backing provided by her husband’s stuttering electric guitar work, along with bass, drums and her own playing on the ardine, a type of harp traditionally only played by women.

The album picked up excellent reviews, and deservedly so, but the new set is an even more confident and varied affair. Recorded and mixed in New York by Tony Maimone, Arbina, like Tzenni, was produced by her drummer and manager Matthew Tinari, an American who moved to Senegal from Oberlin College in Ohio nine years ago on a scholarship to study Wolof and French, and now spends much of his time in Mauritania. He also acts as Noura’s translator, explaining “we have been playing together and rehearsing for a long time now, so it’s natural that the music has evolved. Tzenni allowed us to tour a lot, but when we went to the US for the first time in 2013 we had never worked with just a four-person formation like that. We did it simply because of tour costs, and didn’t know if it was going to work or not.” Previously, the band had included backing singers, more percussion and guitars and “sometimes keyboards,” but now new material is being written and arranged for the trimmed-down band.

Their aim, says Noura, was to promote Mauritanian music, “to show the musical tradition we are coming from. It’s such rich music, and the aim is to make it global. And it’s a dynamic form. One can evolve within the tradition.”

A largely desert state on the far west coast of Africa, Mauritania has borders with Mali and Senegal, as well as Western Sahara and Algeria. In the West, at least, these neighbouring countries are far better known for their music traditions than Mauritania, so does she find that frustrating?

“Yes, because Mauritanian music is so rich. It’s a complex music when compared to Touareg music. There’s a lot of depth to the Moorish music tradition that makes it curious that it has never had more attention. It’s such a special thing and I want to show the world this special tradition.”

It’s special, Tinari continues “because melodically, Moorish music has a system of five different modes, so there’s a vast melodic palate from which people are working. In Malian music they only use two of those modes. So the fact that it’s conceived of in this way makes it very different to other music in the region. There are a lot of theoretical rules, as with an Indian raga or a maqam in Arabic music.”

It’s this variety that makes it easy for Noura to work with a range of different musicians. She can collaborate with ease with the Syrian musicians and singers, but as Tinari explains “there are other modes that she can use when singing with Malian artists – she has sung with Oumou Sangaré and many others. But there’s this classical element that I find quite different to Malian griot music.” Mauritanian music includes modes that sound like the blues, along with styles to encourage fighters, or for marriages.

As a drummer, Tinari is fascinated by the different rhythms he plays with the band. “A lot of it is in 6/8, and it’s like a link to the rhythms I have heard in Guinea, Mali and Senegal and those of the Arab world. It touches on both sides. And there are some rhythms that are very particular to Mauritania.” He claps his hands to demonstrate reffet, a rhythm that can be heard on Tzenni on the song ‘Hebebeb (Zrag)’.

So how hard was it to re-work this ancient, complex music for a four-piece electric guitar band that also features Noura’s traditional ardine harp? “It was hard at first, but we got used to it,” says Noura. “The tuning was difficult. My husband Jeiche doesn’t use Western tuning on his guitar. He plays a modified Moorish guitar.” Tinari found that “Noura’s singing and ardine playing go perfectly with the guitar, but our bassist Ousmane Touré plays a Western bass, and has got to fit in with that. Integrating the bass and drums is what is important.”

And as for Noura’s powerful vocal style, she says there was no problem playing with this band. “I’m a traditional singer, and my technique doesn’t change. But every venue is different, and I can sing different things at weddings or festivals.” As an iggawen, or griot, Noura comes from a long and distinguished line of musicians who were guardians of the country’s history and expected to give advice, as well as praise, in their songs. The ancient griot tradition continues on the new album, with the title-track on Arbina. “It’s a name for God,” Noura explains, and though this is partly a religious song, it also examines the concept of sëbeu and the positive actions people can take on their own destinies.

The subject of ‘Arbina’ is one very close to Noura as specifically addresses women’s healthcare: “So it advises women about getting themselves screened for breast cancer or uterine cancer. I have had this idea for some time,” she confides, “because my mother died of breast cancer.”

Elsewhere, the new album is “a patchwork” of both the new and the traditional. So the new songs include ‘Arbina’, the gutsy and upbeat ‘Tia’ and the exuberant ‘Mohammedoun’, which is a praise song devoted to the prophet Muhammad, while ‘Suedi Koum’, which has echoes of desert blues, is traditional and the slower, bluesy and reggae-edged track ‘Ghlana’ is “a mixture of old and new.”

“There’s a repertoire she draws on,” Tinari explains to me, “and she adds things and sews it all together to create this modern sound we are going for. She is creating within the tradition, making it evolve.”

Despite her celebrated musical family and iggawen roots, Noura says it was never inevitable that she would become a singer. “My father was very modern in outlook. I was not forced to become an artist or to sing, but I chose it. My grandmother Mounina was a renowned singer, and when I was young I would sing around the house and my grandfather would say to her ‘this girl has got something.’ So if you come from a family of great musicians, they can talent-scout whether you can sing!”

She started out singing as a backing singer with her celebrated step-mother Dimi Mint Abba, “and travelled with her to four or five different countries when I was 17,” she remembers. “But then I got married and started singing at weddings. And Dimi also stopped touring at a certain point and chose to stay in Mauritania. A lot of people in the West don’t realise that it can be more profitable and economically stable for musicians to stay at home.”

In Mauritania, she explains, there is no club scene and no music bars, unlike neighbouring Mali or Senegal, and the vast majority of live music performances take place at weddings, where artists can be very well rewarded, “though you have to sing for three hours at a time.”

Noura has decided not to concentrate on the lucrative wedding scene, but to take Mauritanian music to an international audience “because it’s more interesting. But I will still do weddings,” she admits, “if there’s a personal connection, or if it’s for friends or family.”

“She will probably sing at my wedding,” adds Tinari. It should be quite the party.

Tags: , .

New issue (November 2016) on sale now!

Posted on September 30th, 2016 in News, Recent posts by .

Songlines November Issue


Mauritanian singer Noura Mint Seymali, Jordanian sibling trio The Khoury Project, Eliza Carthy and The Wayward Band, Lemn Sissay’s guest playlist and more

The November (#122) issue is on sale in the UK from today. Every edition comes with two free covermount CDs. The Top of the World compilation CD includes the tracks from the best new albums reviewed in the issue and an exclusive guest playlist from poet Lemn Sissay. There is also an exclusive 16-track Dutch Delta Sounds sampler, which highlights music from around the world that is rooted in the Netherlands.

On the Top of the World CD you’ll discover new tracks from international collective Kefaya, voodoo-funk explorers Vaudou Game, Austin-based chicha masters Money Chicha, and award-winning folk duo Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker.

Subscribe today and claim a Top of the World album for free!

Noura Mint Seymali

Noura Mint Seymali – The Mauritanian singer raising the profile of her country’s music
The Khoury Project – The Jordanian band of brothers coming to the UK
Martin Green’s Flit – The accordionist’s multimedia project about migration
Eliza Carthy – Folk’s newest big band about to hit the road
Ronald Snijders – Suriname’s kaseko flute ambassador

Elza Soares

A Beginner’s Guide to Elza Soares – She may be one of Brazil’s most famous samba singers, but her career and life have been a series of ups and downs.
Lemn Sissay – The poet and broadcaster has been honoured with an MBE, won awards and is chancellor of Manchester University. We talked to Sissay at WOMAD about discovering Ethiopia, his love of music and the artists he connects with
Joseph Tawadros & the Egyptian oud – The Cairo-born, Australia-raised oud player is now making his career in the UK.

PLUS! Reviews of the latest CD and world cinema releases.

Click here to buy the new issue.

Tags: , , , , .

Introducing… Noura Mint Seymali

Posted on August 15th, 2014 in Recent posts by .


Alexandra Petropoulos speaks to the Mauritanian griot singer about the future of Moorish music

Noura Mint Seymali was destined for a life of music. Born into a griot family and the daughter of Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, who was instrumental in opening up Mauritanian music to the world, it was in her blood. “Music is the lifeblood of my culture and family, it’s something truly inseparable from my life. I always dreamed of being able to expand Moorish music in new directions as [my father] did.”

Having begun her musical career at the age of 13 singing for her step-mother, Dimi Mint Abba, Seymali has gone on to do just as she hoped, introducing Mauritanian Moorish music to the 21st century.  But Seymali’s life could have easily taken another route. While there are many respected women griots, not everyone in Mauritania takes kindly to female musicians. “It can be extremely difficult for women who come from griot families to marry outside the caste. Often they have to stop performing entirely. This is because the choice ultimately rests with the husband. Even if the husband has no particular issue himself, he is likely to receive a lot of pressure from his extended family to keep his wife ‘in check.’ People may say it’s haram, sinful. Mostly it’s just jealousy dressed up as righteousness.”

Thankfully, Seymali married another griot, guitarist Jeiche Ould Chighaly, in 1996 and they have been playing together ever since. Seymali sings and plays the ardine (a harp played exclusively by women) while Chighaly plays guitar and tidinit (an ngoni-like lute), and together they have been exploring the possibilities of modern Moorish music. Seymali sees her experimentation as a way of better understanding the source music. She clearly has a profound respect for it: “it is beautiful, sacred, complex, competitive, and often insular. Our music chronicles our history, consummates social bonds, and transmits messages.”

On her first international release, Tzenni, Seymali and her husband are joined by Ousmane Touré on bass and Matthew Tinari on drums. “It is the crystallisation of a new approach to the music,” she reflects. “It’s a more raw and focused sound than any of my previous recordings.” Seymali’s impressive voice shines over Chighaly’s psychedelic guitar and tidinit – but at the same time it is ingeniously rooted in something much deeper, older. “Some of the repertoire we draw on can be hundreds of years old. Griots have been ‘updating’ forever, but it becomes newly relevant if played in a state of true conviction, bent around a new time and place,” she explains. “This means not being afraid to change or feeling like you have to follow every new thing.”

The album’s title means to spin or circulate in Hassaniya and the music twists and twirls in trance-like repetition, without ever seeming to settle. “We live in a very unstable moment – things are changing so fast now. Tzenni reflects that. But it’s also about the power of faith, serenity, and joy in the face of all these things that are beyond our control.

Tzenni is a Top of the World in the Aug/Sept (#103) issue.

Tags: , , .

« Older Entries