Album Review

Orchestre National De Mauritanie – “Orchestre National De Mauritanie” – [Mississippi Records]

abacus   4/30/2013   12-inch, International


Sedated Saharan lounge jazz firmly rooted in local traditions but looking forward to the future. The Orchestra was established in 1968 by the nation’s first president to have something to show off to foreign delegates. At the time, this desert nation was trying to establish itself as a major cultural center of West Africa, at the far tip of the continent and bordering sub-Saharan regions. Some established musicians were recruited, like Hiddu player Saidou Ba, Mohamed “Neyfara” Fall Ould on the namesake flute, and 17 year old Hadrami Ould Meidah to lead the band with his passionate vocals. They trained in Guinea where Western music was banned but certain instrumentation was still adopted, incorporating horns and the electric guitar, which voices their African modalities beautifully. Their only official recording was a 7″ of the middle 2 tracks on side A released in 1973. Check out “La Mone” for some seductive call-response work between vocals and flute and sultry electric guitar wah-nderings, along with a rhythmic breakdown or two. The band disbanded with the coup d’etat that followed a series of droughts and their recordings were almost destroyed under the military regime, saved by a rogue radio engineer who hid them in his house for decades. The cultural pluralism of this early era has largely been lost under the current impoverishment and Islamic focus of today’s Mauritania, but these recordings hearken back to years past when they dreamed of building a “Paris in the sands.”

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