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Noura Mint Seymali At Central Park Summerstage, Saturday, July 5th, 2014, Reviewed

The Noura Mint Seymali Experience

The Noura Mint Seymali Experience

Jeiche Ould Chighalyis something of a spectacular guitarist, if it wasn’t for his white flowing robes you’d think he was an unsung rock performer whose tastes range from psychedelia to jam, to a punky Buzzcocks like speediness, sometimes his guitar sounds like a sitar and sometimes like an Aoud, always at the service of his wife Noura Mint Seymal. , On the day after Independence Day, the ongoing Afro Fest returned to Summerstage and I made it for Noura’s set. Imagine if you will a mix of Islam chanting, Mali melody, western jam and a singer who could easily perform classical Arabic material and you have the Noura Mint Seymali experience.

Noura comes from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, her father was Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, as Noura told Siddhartha Mitter of the Boston Globe (here)”My father was a griot, an artist, a professor of music and a very recognized composer, and his own mother was a great diva”.  In 2012, Noura and her husband were set to play a corporate gig for DHL in Mauritania when they decided to invite  Ousmane Touré (bass) and Matthew Tinari (drums) to join them, in a thrilla mix of Moorish music, which has lead to huge acclaim and a giant leap out of the extremely poor Mauritaniainto mainstream rock fervor band stuff.

A small country, a population of 3 million people, of which 25%  live on under $1.25 a day, a military theocracy with only a rich history and a rich culture to sustain it, on the Maghreb region of western North Africa. Invaded and invaded again: essentially the Nomadic tribes of Africa settled there and fought against Yemen till the Arabs won, until the French Colonized it, Mauritania won its Independence in 1960 and fifty years later Noura is saying “Shukran, Merci, Thank you” after every song.

Sitting for the first song and then moving restlessly around the stage, she is a fiery presence, running through the scales with a hiccup here and a chant there while the band vamps behind her, it won’t sound strange to western ears any more, the flavor is a pan Arab meets rock meets Moor.

Noura is the definition of an outlier, her  step-mother was the Diva of the desert, the late legendary  Dimi Mint Abba (and Dimi’s father wrote the Mauritian  national anthem). I am not clear how, or what the caste system quite means in Mauritania (one assumes it is similar to India) however Dina was born into  a low-caste (“iggawin”). One more thing, Dina at the age of 20 won  the Umm Kulthum Contest in Tunis and her step daughter has some of the great singer Egyptians DNA; Noura seems to maneuver between classical and pop Arab music, to the untrained ear she seems to slip between Indian and Arabic music and with the addition of an electric rock band  a more beat oriented sound which reflects neither really.

Unlike Ethiopian music, there is no r&b influence, the music sways but doesn’t stomp and Noura’s delivery is rock emphatic; it’s a declarative, rich and very inviting sound. Her hour long set mined the debut album, Tzenni, released in June. It is a good album, though I thought they were a little better live. They are such a strange mixing of cultures, the sound is attuned to a western ears especially the rhythm section but then you hear a national instrument like the Ardine, it is so off all centers.

Noura doesn’t speak English and communication was difficult, but music always breaks through language problems and Noura received a very friendly reception.

Grade: B+

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