Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Desert storm
Malouma brings the blues from Mauritania

Conservative, Muslim Mauritania, with its wealth of Arab, Berber (Amazight), Fulani, and other African peoples and its isolation from the changing ways of the world, is inherently vulnerable to an artist like Malouma. All she has to do is harness the deep emotional pull of the country’s trancy, seductive desert music to its natural cousins, rock and blues, and then sing about modern themes — the goodness of love, the dignity and rights of women — and bang: you’ve got scandal, controversy, and a world-music milestone all in one. Of course, Malouma, who makes her Boston debut at the Somerville Theatre next Friday, was no ordinary singer to begin with. The fact that she comes from one of Mauritania’s most respected traditional-music families has made her taste for blues, pop, and civil rights more shocking at home, and more satisfying for listeners abroad.

After years of strict vocal training by her famous griot father, Moktar Ould Meidah, Malouma penned her first song at 15, and before she ever saw the lights of the capital, Nouakchott, star singers there were performing it. "In Mauritania," she said when I talked to her after a concert in Spain about a year ago, "all the artistic families are known. If something comes from our family, people appreciate it. They came to our village with tape recorders, recorded this song, took it to Nouakchott and sang it."

Malouma was still a teenager when she hit the city herself and discovered international music. The emotional timbre and slippery vocal melodies in American blues quickly became an obsession, in part because the music reminded her of traditional singing from the south of Mauritania. Soon she began to imagine ways to blend this and other sounds with her traditional art. "If Mauritanian music were worked on," she reasoned, "and well arranged, it could be much more interesting. Because it’s a music with blues origins, groove, and all that is needed is for artists to be more intelligent, more artistic in the way they arrange it and the messages they put in it." All the arranging in the world would have come to nothing, though, had she not possessed a staggering voice, both elegant and raw, connecting the finesse of a Middle Eastern classical/pop diva like Fairuz with the elemental grit of Janis Joplin.

Malouma’s musical brew became more potent still when she put aside the clan histories of traditional singing and instead sang about AIDS, arranged marriages, and the evils of divorce, where men marry young girls, sire children, and then abandon them to the streets as they go in search of other young women. Such songs led to attacks on Malouma in the press. And on her first international recording, Desert of Eden (Shanachie, 1998), producer Pape Dieng of Senegal stripped the traditional string instruments and the ancient sensibility from her sound and fashioned bland electronic pop, a result she was "not happy" with. But her 2003 follow-up, Dunya (Marabi), is a set of 12 intriguing songs in which the dark, dry twitch of desert harps and lutes and the slap of hands on skin drums blend with electric guitar, bass, and richly arranged vocals. The slow, hypnotic 12/8 of "El Moumna" creates a mystic vibe as the tap of a high-pitched hourglass drum rubs against the low lope of bass and a booming frame drum. Malouma’s narrator is a young man who tells how the beautiful girl who loves him has been married off to an old man. "Jraad," with both a trance feel and hooks, laments the commodification of love. "In the past," Malouma says, "you could love someone for their looks, for their smile, for their soul. Today you look at the pocketbook."

Allusions to blues, pop, and jazz in these songs are playful and sometimes quirky, but originality outweighs calculation. Malouma said that what sounds like a bizarre refraction of boogie-woogie in "Tab ley’ ât" is in fact a Mauritanian folk genre called serbat. In all the music being marketed these days as "desert blues," rare is the song that, like "Mreïmida," follows the standard blues form rather than hovering on a single minor chord. Such sophistication can border on gimmickry — the song’s distorted guitar solo crosses the line — but Malouma’s parched vocal passion, sand-blasted rather than whiskey-soaked, makes her material work. She is one of the great new voices to emerge in world music in recent years, and with her young band, Sahel Hawl Blues, she puts on a pageant of modern North Africa rarely seen on an American stage.

Malouma and Sahel Hawl Blues perform next Friday, April 15, at 8 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square; call (617) 876-4275.

Issue Date: April 8 - 14, 2005
Back to the Music table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group