New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: ousmane toure

A Rare, Relatively Intimate Lincoln Center Show by Mauritanian Force of Nature Noura Mint Seymali

“It is gonna be an amazing performance,” beamed Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh, who’d booked Noura Mint Seymali for an extremely rare, relatively intimate show last night. Relatively, since the Lincoln Center atrium space is still a pretty big room, although it’s hardly the size of the stadiums the Mauritanian singer headlines at festivals around the world.

As with Amadou & Mariam’s psychedelic show last night at a much more cavernous venue, Seymali and band switched between hypnotic vamps and big anthemic choruses, although Seymali’s vocals were vastly more intense. In that sense, it felt vicarious to be oblivious to the lyrical content and watch her belting, her brows knitted, fingers chastising the crowd or spurring their responses throughout a mix of songs in her native Arabic vernacular that drew equally on Islamic religious imagery, ancient folk narratives and pressing global issues.

Her husband, Strat player Jeiche Ould Chighaly kicked off the night with a shivery series of hammer-on accents over a hypnotically swaying beat, then the blue-robed singer took the stage and fired off a shivery round of sound on her ardine harp. That hardly foreshadowed the powerful, melismatic contralto wail she cut loose with as the band built ambience behind her. Chighaly played slide-style with his fingers over the music’s fat, undulating low end from bassist Ousmane Touré and drummer Matthew Tinari.

Seymali pierced the crowd with her relentless stare and her uneasy quavers and trills as Chigaly worked the subtlety of the microtones in between, throughout a slow, ba-bump Mauritanian blues that ended cold. They picked up the pace with a similarly insistent, Saharan-tinged sway, Seymali and Chigaly trading off jaunty riffage: Mauritanian modes are just a hair off the western scale, compared to the biting chromatics of, say, Arabic music, just enough to lend an extra layer of unease. Chigaly turned on his flange for extra warp behind Seymali’s volleys of melismatics as the groove and the volume continued to pick up steam, then shadowed her with some upper-register flash. Reaching deep for a sudden wail, she drew an awestruck response from the crowd.

The number after that came across as slightly microtonal Veracruz folk – who knew? – with another big vocal crescendo and a practically accusatory bridge, Seymali’s vocals and Tinari’s drums pouncing in tandem. She held her notes dramatically as Chighaly slunk and clinked through his wah pedal, the rhythm section taking the pulse up a notch.

They made a singalong out of a funky, catchy Black Angel’s Death Song of sorts, then took a turn into pounding, Velvets-influenced mathrock that they suddenly straightened the kinks out of and went flying into doublespeed, Chighaly coloring it with some wry sirening effects. The show reached peak intensity as the rhythm section shuffled, Seymali running a breathless phrase over and over. They closed with the title track of their album Arbina, a fervently hypnotic, vampingly funky quest for healing.

The next free show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is next Thursday, June 14 at 7:30 PM with Mediterranean folk-pop singer Piers Faccini

A Rare Chance to See Fearless, Intense African Rock Trailblazer Noura Mint Seymali

The second track on Noura Mnt Seymali’s latest album Arbina – streaming at Bandcamp – is a psychedelic Islamic gospel song. It’s an incredible piece of music. Seymali’s husband and lead guitarist Jeiche Ould Chigaly plays warpedly blues-infused lines through a wah pedal in an offcenter scale that’s somewhere between American rock and an uneasy Middle Eastern mode, Seymali supplying elegant rhythm on her ardine, a kora-like, smallscale harp. The scion of a famed Mauritanian musical family. Seymali is a fearlessly feminist trailblazer from a part of the world where that kind of stance can earn you a death sentence, family ties or not.

Now imagine if a reality tv bully and failed casino owner tried banning Muslims from entering the US in order to placate his political party’s Christian supremacist lunatic fringe. If that happened, we’d never get to see Seymali and her wildly psychedelic band, who are playing the album release show at Littlefield on March 2 at 7 PM. $20 advance tix are available, and considering the political climate, this may be your last chance to see her here for the next four years. The World Music Institute get credit for booking this show as part of their ongoing desert blues series. 

The material on the rest of the album is just as strong as that second cut. The title track opens it, part swaying funk, part Malian-style desert rock jam, Chigaly’s alternately punchy and slinky microtonal lines over a tight groove from bassist Ousmane Toure and drummer Matthew Tinari. Seymali’s indomitable mezzo-soprano voice channels a guarded triumph, at one point opaquely encouraging the women around her to “get a injection” in the event they get sick. Baby steps today, giant steps tomorrow.

The third track might be the most high-voltage lullaby ever recorded, rippling with intertwining ardine and guitar. Suedi Koum is slower and more resolute, a rather tender shout-out from one musician to another, Seymali reassuring the star who’s left the stage that she’s got his back no matter what dangers might be lurking in the crowd.

A cover of a defiantly triumphant anti-imperialist hit by Seymali’s father,  Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, shifts back and forth between a catchy singalong chorus and shapeshifting desert rock. Ghiana is as hypnotic as it it anthemic: Chigaly’s dulcimer-like lines bring to mind Richard Thompson in extreme folk-rock mode. Seymali shifts toward more wary ambience with Ghizlane, an understatedly desperate escape anthem.

Ya Demb is a spiky, undulating electric update of a funny, traditional Moorish wedding song, a sort of emperor-has-no-clothes scenario. After a misterioso improv intro, Soub Hanak – the most straight-up rock number on the album – speaks starkly to the solace of music amid the ravages of war. The final cut, Tia, a prayer, slinks along Tinariwen style amid Chigaly’s alternately staccato and resonant guitar multitracks.

A shout to No Grave Like the Sea’s Tony Maimone, whose masterful mastering job captured the growliest lows of Toure’s downtuned bass without throwing the rest of the mix off wack.