Moorish music from Mauritania has been evolving for centuries and now Noura Mint Seymali and her group have taken another step towards sharing that music with the world on Tzenni. Her father, Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, was a visionary scholar-artist who believed progressive Mauritanian music should be embraced, not dismissed for lacking strict traditionality. Her stepmother, Dimi Mint Abba, is hailed as a national treasure who gave her stepdaughter the opportunity to sing backup for her while she was a teenager. Her paternal grandmother, Mounina, was also a respected singer and musician. Needless to say, Noura Mint Seymali’s experience of growing up in an iggawen, or griot, family has strongly shaped her own musical message for a global audience.
Tzenni follows two promising EPs, Azawan & Azawan II. For these projects Noura Mint Seymali and her husband, guitarist Jeiche Ould Chighaly, recruited Ousmane Touré on bass and Matthew C. Tinari on drumkit to give the group a strong foundation. The ardine (played by women) and the tidinit (played by men) form azawan, the traditional instruments at the heart of Moorish music. Seymali plays the ardine while she sings and Chighaly plays a modified electric guitar in place of the tidinit. In Mauritania, it’s common for guitarists to emulate the tidinit by having the frets altered to allow quarter tones to be played. Chighaly also feeds his guitar through a phase pedal, which adds a nice dose of flange to his phrasing. His dexterous playing is the perfect compliment for Seymali’s dynamic voice and steady ardine backing.
The sonic connection shared between Seymali and Chighaly is tremendous. The subtle support each musician gives one another is resounding and resonates throughout the recording. The album moves cyclically through Moorish modes, offering contemporary versions of classic Mauritanian repertoire alongside original and reimagined compositions. Seymali’s voice is commanding and elegant; a powerful force that demands attention. Chighaly’s surreal guitar work is astonishing and has earned him praise from every corner of the globe.
From start to finish, Tzenni offers an honest glimpse into Mauritanian life. “Eguetmar” tackles homesickness, “Tzenni” addresses the instability of an ever-changing world and “El Madi” takes the perspective of a prisoner jailed before Mauritania’s independence. Throughout the album, the band pays tribute to Noura Mint Seymali’s musical family. “Hebebeb (Zrag)” is an exciting love song written by Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, “Tikifite” is a healing song that was commonly performed by Dimi Mint Abba and “Emin Emineïna Chouweynë” is dedicated to Mounina and mourns her passing. An outstanding album from an inspirational band, Tzenni should not be missed.
Originally published in RootsWorld Magazine.