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Ensemble El-Moukhadrami
Chants de griots
Institut du Monde Arabe

There are many albums of Griots from Mali, Senegal, Gambia and elsewhere in West Africa, however it is much more uncommon to hear Griots from Mauritania. These Griots are quite different than their West African colleagues, and it would seem that the use of "Griot" here refers more to the similarity of their roles in society, rather than any direct historical links (Griot being a French derivative of the Mandinka Jeli, in Mauritania these musician are known by the Berber word iggiw). There are other similarities, such as the instrumentation, which features the tidinit (lute) and the ardin (harp), similar to the ngoni and kora of Mandinka fame. However, the actual music played features an unusual confluence of Arabic and Berber roots, very different from other West African Griots and unlike any other North African music I have encountered.

This live recording features 15 songs in two major forms: unmetered and metered. Unmetered songs often work as extended preludes to metered songs, though a few unmetered songs stand alone. There are also songs where the voice is unmetered over rhythmic instrumental accompaniment, this gives an unusual detachment to the voice while lending it greater prominence. The voice is all-important in this music-the instrumental accompaniment, lute, harp and percussion, being fairly restrained and light. There are four vocalists, Tekeiber Mint El Meidah, Fatma Mint Seyid, Ahmed Ould N'ghdeil, Bouh Ould Boba Jiddou, two females and two males, who either sing solo or in male-female duets. They all have powerful and raw voices, particularly the women, as seen in the duets where the woman's voice is louder and more on edge. One of the most beautiful examples on this disc is "Umsiku dam'a 'ayni/Ahdeib zwayn." Sung by Tekeiber Mint El Meidah, this medley begins with an unmetered song of loss. The music begins tentatively with the tidinit and ardin until the vocalist enters. She sings softly though with tremendous emotion. As in many Arabic traditions, this unmetered section is the "heavier" part which heightens tension, later to be relieved by the "lighter" rhythmic song which follows.

This album is a pleasure in its raw emotion and range of vocalists. It also further enriches one's appreciation for the incredible variety of Arabic traditions. - David Dalle

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