ETRAN FINATAWA (NIGER)
Many a music fan’s first glimpse of Etran Finatawa (‘The stars of tradition’) will have been at a summer festival, where they could have been forgiven for thinking there had been a major mix-up backstage, resulting in two completely different bands appearing on the same bill. At the same time. And such a first impression isn’t so wide of the mark …
“On va chantez ensemble! Ce n’est pas difficile,” exhorts Ghalitane Khamidoune, perhaps addressing his colleagues as much as the audience. His electric guitar and shiny brown turban and robes identify him as a Touareg tribesman. He’s joined by two other similarly dressed performers, plus three very tall, androgynously dressed Wodaabe men with ostrich feathers billowing from white turbans, and long flowing dress-like garments, their faces strikingly divided by vertical yellow lines.
Fusion isn’t always such a good idea, but this one seems particularly natural and inspired. The strange but wonderful group has its origins in the music scene of Niger’s capital Niamey, where a combination of war and drought has forced many nomadic people to settle in recent years. Historically, these two distinct ethnic groups have sometimes found themselves in conflict over competition for scarce resources, and racism. But in a blue-sky thinking move, Ghalitane’s group Etran N’Guefan (‘the Stars of the Dunes’) joined forces with the groundbreaking Wodaabe performance group Finatawa for a joint show at the legendary Festival in the Desert in neighbouring Mali in 2004. The gig was so well received they decided to merge their ensembles – hence the hybrid name.
The cultural yin and yang of this combination also works its magic on their debut CD, Introducing Etran Finatawa (2006). The raggedly distorted ‘desert blues’ guitar lines and loping camel rhythms of the Touareg musicians are given extra bounce by the Wodaabe drums and stiff-palmed clapping, and Touareg ‘calls’ are met by wailing Wodaabe responses on each others’ folksongs. Even though they speak very different languages, the two musical traditions complement each other well. Etran Finatawa are the latest and best dressed exponents of a wave of sub-Saharan nomad bands, who, like Tinariwen and Tartit before them, are conquering new territories with music as their only weapon.
Etran Finatawa on the World Music Network
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