Tende or Tuareg folk blues is the kind of music that, if you asked the 20-year-old me what I’d be listening to 23 years later, probably wouldn’t have been on the list. But there’s something crucial going on musically in north Africa, and specifically in the Sahel scrubland of Niger and Mali, and I now find myself with a pretty decent handful of artists and labels I follow. Heck, Missoula’s second Traveler’s Rest festival this summer will feature the kings of the genre when Tinariwen stop in to play.
Les Filles de Illighadad are from a village in deep rural Niger, where they live communally, and make some sublimely beautiful and direct music. It features simultaneously piercing and subdued lead guitar that does simple variations on a single theme and sets a great trance-like vibe that scaffolds each piece. Les Filles de Illighadad is led by guitarist Fatou Seidi Ghali and singer Alamnou Akrouni. The fact that they’re women makes them stand out. According to sheshredsmag.com, Ghali is one of only two known female Tuareg guitarists in Niger. Tuareg societal norms hold that generally, playing guitar is for men. What struck me most when I first heard Tende (via Tinariwen) was how much it reminded me of spare Delta blues. The rhythms and ululating and flourishes are thoroughly Tuareg, but it’s overall a relatable sound. An armchair ethnomusicologist can’t help but be woken up to this music and my instincts tell me to listen to more of it.