Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Super Onze – Adar Neeba

Super Onze are the real roots of desert blues” explains Lucy Durán from the School of Oriental and African studies on the Super Onze website. “This is how it all sounded before the electric guitar came in to the equation: Super Onze play amplified ngonis with virtuoso and hypnotic melodies, their raw, impassioned bluesy singing hangs over heavy takamba beats on calabash percussion. After years of playing at weddings and child naming ceremonies around the desert, this band rocks – not to be silenced. The real soul of Mali’s northern desert.”

In a recent article on the website of T160k – an organisation set up to support the housing and restoration of Timbuktu’s manuscripts – Super Onze explain their story, values and history. This includes their traumatic experiences of late in conflict stricken Mali; intimidation, forced flight and the destruction of their instruments and with them their livelihoods. The film that comprises the bulk of the information in the article illustrates what Lucy Durán speaks about above. Everything from the takamba beats to the importance of music in desert ceremonies. What the written aspect of the article does overplay perhaps is that “Filming heritage IS preserving heritage”. For example, I’m not sure here in the UK we should build a road through the middle of Stonehedge just because a video of it exists somewhere on YouTube – but the sentiment is useful, and Super Onze know this too. Music is important to Mali’s future, for social, cultural and economic reasons both internally and for reaching out abroad. The political and economic situation is far from stable or improving. Perhaps if this music were to be banned again, tragically prevented from being passed down in a reprisal war or simply destroyed outright – these recordings would count for something.

Adar Neeba is a Tamashek song, about an area in the region of Tombouctou. It’s name literally means ‘Lost Feet’. “It is an area where people often get lost in the absence of things in the environment to orient themselves upon.” Its subject matter may be about a land with the potential to confuse but its style, composition and sound is firmly rooted. It knows exactly where it is and where its come from.

The fight is still on to ensure it has a future beyond  memories, recordings and pixels on a screen.

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