In Tzenni, we have not only a prodigious singer, Noura Mint Seymali, but also a stunningly world class guitar player in the figure of her husband, Jeiche Ould Chighaly. Had this guy been around in the 70s and toured with the era's psychedelic bands, we would've carried him around on a palanquin after each concert. His style is literally unbelievable, magnificent, something tried a few times (listen to Kaleidocospe's Seven Ate Sweet for an approximation), but never so authentically nailed. Then trip over to the Carnatic guyz, Ustad Srinivas in particular, and see where the real deal resides in geography with far more extensive depths than many Westerners have ever been exposed to. In that, Chighaly's as well steeped in Moorish musics as Noura, both resurrecting the heart and soul of the land to help ease these hectic modern times.
Seymali was destined for her task, coming from a long lineage of visionary sound artists, but it was her father, Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, who devised the first system for Moorish melodic notation as well as wrote the country's national anthem, thus laying Mauritanian musics on the world's doorstep—which, you'll understand as soon as you hear the opening measures of the very first cut, the globe has been shamefully slow in retrieving. Vall's wife, Noura's step-mother, Dimi Mint Abba (Loula Bint Sidatty Ould Abba), is deemed one of Mauritania's historically oustanding musicians, so well regarded that it was none other then Ali Farka Toure who recommended her to the World Circuit label and initiated what curiously resulted in only two LPs—Moorish Music from Mauritania (Khalifa Ould Eide & Dimi Mint Abba, 1990) and Music and Songs of Mauritania (Dimi Mint Abba, 1992)—with a mere two more later on, but only in terms of Abba's contributions (The Rough Guide to West African Music, 1995, and Unwired: Africa, 2000).
Tragically, Abba died at the much too early age of 52 from a stage accident in 2011 in Morrocco. Her passing was immediately recognized as a national loss by no less than the President of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Here, though, is what's truly striking: see if you can find any other musician in the world who, from just two releases and touring, was elevated to the ne plus ultra of any country's musics. You can't, hers was an astounding feat, a demonstration of a woman who was a force of nature and art, and her daughter is carrying the tradition on. From that, you can begin to discern the gravity of Tzenni but what you won't know until you hear it is the degree of blues and other modernizations infused into the release.
I went to YouTube, and you should too, and listened to Abba's work (I think that's Noura as a backing vocalist on some of them), contrasting it to this disc, and the differences are noticeable but Noura's work is just as compelling in its own fidelities to elder modes. Keep in mind that both her parents were likewise re-popularizing their country's musics, and the tradition is easily seen, though Noura has dared more, I am only too confident to assert, than her progenitors while staying faithful to the same essences and modalities. There are, of course, many similarities to Persian, Carnatic, Balkan, and other regional dispositions here, as that area shares a long and rich history artistically, but the singer's vocals are accomplished, compelling, insistent, and at times hypnotizing. You'll find no correlates in Westerm terms, so no amount of word play will suffice on my part. You'll have to listen to understand.
If World music is your passion, Tzenni is the goods, and not in that decades-tired traipse through gooey sludge, airy confection, and chirping birds we're all too used to but instead intense riveting Art…and I'm telling you right now, Chighaly is one of the world's great guitar players, hands down. The match of he and Seymali could not possibly have been more perfect.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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