Noura Mint Seymali

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"Noura Mint Seymali, from Mauritania, comes from an ancient family of griots, and she has a commanding, wide-open voice…the pentatonic melodies of her songs had something in common with the blues. But her fusion was particular and selective…She only meets American music on her own terms." - New York Times, January 13th, 2014

"She cleverly merges her powerful voice with the twangy guitar sound created by her husband…this Mauritanian music is an excellent example of roots rocketed into the 21st century." - Songlines, April/May 2014

TZENNI in Hassaniya means to circulate, to spin, to turn. It‘s the name for a whirling dance performed to the music of Moorish griots, often under khaima tents thrown up for street gatherings in the sandy quartiers of Nouakchott and out across the wide deserts of Mauritania. Tzenni is an orbit, the movement of the earth around the sun, the daily progression of light and dark, lunar cycles, tides and winds. Tzenni, the dance, comes forth as the cyclical trajectory of a Moorish musical gathering builds to a fervorous pitch. It‘s a word whose expansive valence reminds us how only the most basic reality can create such romantic metaphor.

Produced and recorded across an appropriately dizzying array of locations and social contexts (New York City, Dakar, Nouakchott) the album Tzenni is a contemporary articulation of Moorish griot music from Mauritania—an artform that has been evolving and gaining momentum for centuries - as voiced by Noura Mint Seymali, an artist profoundly steeped in its history and rigorously devoted to its global resonance.

Noura Mint Seymali
comes from a long line of visionary musicians. Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, her father, was a scholar-artist instrumental in opening Mauritanian music to the world; devising the first system for Moorish melodic notation, adapting music for the national anthem, and composing works popularized by his wife (Noura‘s step-mother), the great Dimi Mint Abba. From her precocious beginnings as a teenaged backing vocalist with Dimi Mint Abba, Noura Mint Seymali now drives the legacy forward, re-calibrating Moorish music for our contemporary moment. Her band‘s arrangements, rigor, and experimental spirit may be understood as a continuation of the tradition of Seymali, Dimi, her grandmother Mounina, and countless others.

Together with her husband, heroic guitarist Jeiche Ould Chighaly, who brings the force of yet another powerful branch of Moorish musical lineage, the band on this recording was conceived as a distillation of essential elements, the ―azawan‖ and the backbeat. The ardine & tidinit (or guitar) together are the ―azawan,‖ the leading ensemble of Moorish traditional music, while bass & drums, played here by Ousmane Touré and Matthew Tinari, fortify it with genre transcendent funk and a basic pop urgency. Tzenni re-visits several classics of the Moorish repertoire, but does so within a novel formation, conversant in the pop idiom, and with Noura Mint Seymali’s personal history interwoven throughout. The practice of aligning music to a given socio-historical and personal moment is an essential charge of the iggawen, or griot, and, we believe, of artists everywhere.

As we seek to convey another turn in the Mauritanian musical dialectic, Tzenni is ultimately an album about shape shifting, faith, and stability found through instability. It‘s about taking the positive with the negative in a world that can only ever keep turning at break neck speed. We invite you to spin with us, to dance with us, through the music on this recording! --Matthew Tinari: producer/drummer for Noura Mint Seymali

1 - Eguetmar
Eguetmar recites a simple dialogue between two men meeting in a foreign land:
A: I feel like a stranger here, alone and without my family. My longing makes me feel desperation as a baby being weaned from its mother. I fear I must try to forget my family in order to succeed.
B: Have faith; I guarantee you will return to your family. In the name of God, I shall offer you all you need to return. ―Bismillah.‖

2 - Tzenni
Tzenni is a reflection on change and instability. The poet is tormented and troubled, but takes refuge in the fact of impermanence. ―Everything turns, everything changes. Nothing in this life is stable; everything can change at a moment‘s notice. Sometimes life brings happiness and sometimes sadness. What real decisions can be made, what course can be taken in a world that‘s always changing?‖

3 - El Barm
A classic of Mauritanian traditional repertoire, ―El Barm‖ is a love song. Sung in the voice of a restless, unstable man who believes he may never change and is destined to wander forever, he now marvels at how his life has ultimately been altered by a woman, in whom he has at last found stability. Their love has changed his course in a way he thought was impossible; as impossible as combining the East with the West. Various metaphors for the impossible ensue.

4 - El Madi
―El Madi‖ means ―the past.‖ The song is the reflection of a prisoner jailed in the time before Mauritania‘s independence. He addresses a lover on the outside, remembering their past: ―The judge will not free me to see you. I‘m imprisoned unjustly and long to see you again. As I dream of you I‘m blinded by the gold of your headdress, shining so brightly in my memory.‖ In traditional context, ―El Madi‖ is a dance performed by women.

5 - El Mougelmen
El Mougelmen is a dish in Mauritania made from a mix of spices and flowers. Similarly, the song‘s lyrics are a mix of different lines of poetry, thematically unrelated and chosen for musicality, mashed up via free association in a way similar to the ingredients of the dish. ―My thoughts are on the women of today,‖ Noura sings - women implicitly being the makers of El Mougelmen. ―God bestows blessings and takes them away,‖ blessings such as food and sustenance.

6 - Hebebeb (Zrag)
Composed by Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall. The poet is overtaken by the beauty of a woman, named Mariam, picking dates in a grove of trees. Rather than addressing Mariam directly, he pleads with her friend, Heydana, to sing for Mariam in order to attract her attention. He asks Heydana, ―repeat after me, ‗Hebebeb…‘ Always sing this song for her early in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening‖

7 - Soub Hanallah
A sacred song devoted to the prophet Mohammed (p.s.l.) and asking God for forgiveness. May God forgive and protect parents, sisters, brothers, and all loved ones. May God grant mercy upon our sins. Soub Hanallah recites numerous praise names for the prophet.

8 - Tikifite
Tikifite is an herb that is believed to heal the liver and stomach. ―Stir the tikite‖ a man asks, he wishes to be healed and together with his soul mate. A song often performed by Dimi Mint Abba, poetry written for her is often included; ―Dimi when you sing for me it heals me.‖

9 - Char‘aa
Char‘aa is primarily a dance. The title refers to the dance / rhythm which precedes the singing. The text here is that of an old praise song, sung originally for the prophet Mohammed (p.s.l.) upon his return to Medina after victory in battle.

10 - Emin Emineïna Chouweynë
Dedicated to Noura‘s paternal grandmother Mounina, a great singer and musician, the song assembles various lines of poetry written about her. The title, literally ―where are you ugly?,‖ originates from a line questioning popular criticism of Mounina by posing a simple question; ―they may say that you are ugly, but where can this ugliness be found?‖ Another line concerns Noura herself, offered to her as a compliment, by a poet who says her voice is as beautiful as Mounina‘s. The text mourns how Mounina‘s absence leaves a void.

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Noura Mint Seymali

Tzenni

Release Date: 06/20/2014 · Format: CD/LP(+mp3)/Digital · Cat-No: GBCD/LP 016

" Noura Mint Seymali , from Mauritania, comes from an ancient family of griots, and she has a commanding, wide-open voice…the pentatonic melodies of her songs had something in common with the blues. But her fusion was particular and...
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Noura Mint Seymali