New Audio: Introducing the All-Women Tuareg Trio Les Filles de Illighadad

Comprised of frontwoman and guitarist Fatou Seidi Ghali, Alamnou Akrouni and Madassane Ahmoudou, Les Fillies de Illighadad hail from Illighadad, a secluded and remote, rural commune in central Niger, near the edge of the Sahara Desert that’s only accessible via a grueling drive through the open desert. There’s little modern infrastructure in the village, and the town lacks electricity and running water with the surrounding countryside supporting hundreds of shepherd families, living with and among their herds of livestock, as their ancestors have done for centuries.

The sound that has long defined rural Niger is known as tende which derives its name from a drum built from goat skin stretched across a mortar and pestle and is rooted in sparse arrangements featuring vocals, handclaps and percussion while thematically, songs focus on life in the village, love and praise of ancestors. And interestingly enough, it’s a genre and style largely dominated by women; in fact, long known as being both collective and communal, tende is a specifically a tradition for the young girls of the nomad camps — and typically, tende is played during celebrations and to pass time during the rainy season. Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past few years, you’d recall that there have been certain genres of Tuareg music that have received international attention from music journalists and fans in the West and elsewhere — in particular, the desert blues, pioneered by acts like Tinariwen, Bombino and Mdou Moctar have become synonymous with Tuareg music and culture to the West; however, music rooted in the use of the electric guitar is a relatively recent phenomenon with exiled Tuareg living in Libya and Algeria, who had also been equally influenced by Western rock, funk and punk rock began using instrumentation to mimic female vocalists. Out of necessity they replaced traditional tende percussion with plastic jerrycans. Naturally when those exiles returned to their ancestral homeland, they brought their new sound with them, and in time the new guitar sound came to eclipse tende — especially in urban centers. With tende being primarily sung by women, the desert blues was the male counterpart, and the Tuareg guitar scene is largely dominated by men.

Interestingly Les Filles de Illighadad’s Fatou Seidi Ghali is an extreme rarity — she’s one of the only female Taureg guitarists in Niger. As the story goes, Ghali would sneak away with her older brother’s guitar and taught herself how to play, and while being groundbreaking within her culture, it’s also a bold way of reasserting the role of tende and of women in Tuareg music; but while employing the use of electric guitar, they manage to use the traditional drum and a calabash half-buried in water instead of the more contemporary djembe or drum kit.  The trio’s full-length debut effort Eghass Malan was recorded while they were on their first European tour — and after a handful of shows. And as you’ll hear from the album’s latest single and album title track “Eghass Malan,” the trio recorded the song and the rest of the album’s material with a sort of impromptu minimalism of a band jamming together, thanks in part to rather bare bone arrangements of twisting, turning and hypnotic guitar lines, multi-part harmonies, simple yet driving rhythms and handclaps but with a clean, effortless production sheen — and although recorded in the modern fashion, the song points to a much more timeless and ageless sound that goes back to our nomadic and tribal origins while pushing an entire culture in a new direction.