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World Music CD Reviews Africa

VARIOUS ARTISTS

By Tom Jackson
Published January 17, 2006

The Sounds Of The West Sahara: Mauritania
Arc Music

Music from Mali has attracted a huge amount of interest in the last half-dozen years. Over the border to the west lies Mauritania, a huge desert land that has produced at least one singing star in the shape of female vocalist, Malouma. This compilation, however, is rather closer to ground level: it comprises field recordings from 1978 made by the Bengali ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya and provides an insight into the music of the griot musicians of this part of the Sahara. The recordings were made in nomad tents and contain coughs, splutters and other extraneous sounds, but the music captured is nonetheless striking: the voices vary from an unearthly sweetness of girls singing together to male voices colored with the roughness of the desert terrain. Instrumentation comes from the ardin, a Saharan harp and the tidinit, a four string lute, held in time by the rough knocking of the t’bol kettle drum. This is difficult, raw music, not for the casual listener—and which may consequently struggle to find an audience—but it is unarguably fascinating.