Niger has a diverse culture, taking in the largely nomadic Tuareg nomads in the north; Hausa in the centre and south; Beriberi in the east, around Lake Chad; and groupings of Djerma and Songhai, and Dendi in the west and south. All have their own disinctive traditional musics.
The Tuareg comprise only around 3 percent of Niger's population, but their culture is remarkable. They live in the northern regions of the Ténéré desert and Aïr mountains and travel throughout the Sahel. One prominent Tuareg musician is Alhousseini Anivolla, whose debut solo album will be released on Riverboat Records in 2012.
In strongly Muslim Niger, music as entertainment is not readily accepted, and for many years after independence there was little cultural policy, unlike in Mali or Guinea. However after the death of the military dictator, Seyni Kounché in 1987, the new governmnet looked to music as a means of bringing cultures together.
The opening for this was a competitive music festival, the Prix Dan Gourmou. The national contest helped form music and dance ensembles in every region. Out of this event, the CFPM (Centre for Musical Training and Promotion) materialised. Here, under the guidance of foreign teachers, many Nigerien musicians took courses. The group Takeda was formed with the best musicians from CFPM - Moussa Poussy, Yacouba Moumouni, Adam's Junior, Fati Mariko and Kohn Sofakolé.
As there was no commercial musical production in the country in the mid-1990s, music from Niger was hardly known. International producer Ibrahim Sylla was astonished when his friend told him he should check out what was going on in Niamey.
Sylla ended up signing the singers Moussa Poussy and Saadou Bori to make an album each in Abidjan.
The guitar-player and leader of Takeda, Abdoulaye 'Abdallah' Alassane has also worked with the band Mamar Kassey since 1995. The band have branched out on the international circuit and were seen by many to have the potential to represent the voice of Niger in the global world music scene.
As a nomad of the Toubou tribe, Malam Mamane Barka in the indisputable son of the desert. He was born in Tesker, in the eastern part of the Niger Republic, in 1959 and began his career as a teacher. In the 1980s and 1990s, he also played the nugurumi, a traditional string instrument, and thanks to his skills and charisma soon became a celebrated musicians in Niger and Nigeria, landing him with the opportunity to travel all over the world to represent his country in various cultural events.
In 2002, Mamane Barka received a UNESCO scholarship to materialize his dream of reviving the tradition of the biram, the fiver-string harp. He travelled to Lake Chad in eastern Niger to meet the Boudouma, an ethnic group of nomadic fishermen, and their sacred instrument which they believe is protected by the spirit of the lake, Kargila. True to its role as an integral part of the fishing tradition, the instrument resembles a boat.
Now Mamane Barka is the only living master of the biram and has single-handedly ensured the survival of the precious instrument. His 2009 World Music Network album, Introducing Mamane Barka is an excellent album traversing traditional Boudouma songs that talk about the life of the ancestors, the spirits, the animals and nomad life.
Etran Finatawa combine the rich nomadic cultures of the Tuareg and Wodaabe people from the West African country of Niger – a region that for thousands of years has served as a crossroads between the Arabs of North Africa and the sub-Saharan traditions. Etran Finatawa blend traditional instruments with electric guitars, combining the polyphonic songs of the Wodaabe people with modern arrangements, transporting you to the Sahara with their evocative sound.
Another Nigerien ensemble The Endless Journey is an amalgamation of four musicions from two of Niger’s most celebrated ensembles: Etran Finatawa(singer, guitarist and songwriter Alhouseini Anivolla and percussionist and singer Bamo Angonla) and Mamane Barka (biram virtuoso Mamane Barka and percussionist Oumarou Amadou). Their full performances include music and specially mixed visuals projected behind the performers to create a powerful and emotive live experience. The visuals are created by internationally acclaimed photographer and film-maker Jean Molitor whose newly-made documentary The Rolling Lesson is also celebrated in this project , as it discusses Niger’s political and social issues through The Endless Journey’s music.
Being cultural ambassadors from Niger with worldwide international performances for the last six years, it has become more and more apparent upon return home to each of the performers how the same traditions they present on the world stage are being rapidly lost with the younger generations. The Endless Journey recounts their role as musical activists at schools throughout Niger. Together, the four musicians' swirling strings, driving rhythms and haunting vocals evoke the vast open spaces of the desert and the very soul of nomadic life.