Etran Finatawa – The Sahara Sessions (2013)
When listening to folk music without any background information, one is almost forced to take a journey with the music trying to determine from where it has come. Musical styles, instrumentation, vocal inflections and overall feel go towards this; however the deeper you listen to folk music, the more you hear similarities across the world and you realise that people often transfer their thoughts and dreams into music in similar ways the world over.
Now, the title of this album unfortunately spoils this little game with Etran Finatawa (though I had forgotten the title when I was listening). Going by the music alone, a simple stripped back folky blues, plucked guitar, and a simple rhythm played on a drum with hand claps. One stand out feature of the style is the wide open structure of the songs, with sections often repeated as far as the horizon; that is what led me to think of nomadic peoples. Though, because of the singing, I felt it was geographically placed Eastwards. Not as far as Mongolia (Siberian music I’m sure I would recognise pretty quickly), so I settled on Kazahkstan.
What I should have heard better is the blues influence in the music. That (along with title) would have placed Etran Finatawa squarely in Western Africa, the “other home of the blues”. In fact, Etran Finatawa are from Niger, and composed of members of two nomadic groups, the Tuareg and Wodaabe, a coming together of cultures, as songs are sang in both languages.
The music itself is lovely to listen to, very loose and low key, lamenting and heartfelt. Vocal melodies and harmonies interplay with the guitar melodies and feel like eternity, like the wide open landscape that form the nomads’ life. The album was recorded in the desert as live takes, and that adds to the honesty of the music.
Enjoyable, but not enervating, so it might just be that perfect antidote to a frenetic lifestyle that some of us find us so often in.
Favourite tracks: Matinfa, Eldam, Bakuba
Spotify link: Etran Finatawa – The Sahara Sessions