Etran Finatawa’s musicians come from Niger which is one of the three poorest countries in the world, it is a landlocked country in West Africa bordered by Mali, Algeria, Libya, Chad and Nigeria. Niger has a very rich cultural heritage and sits at a desert crossroads between the Berber and Arab cultures of the North and the many sub-Saharan cultures of the South. In Niger there are eleven different ethnic groups most of whom are farmers or pastoralists, both sedentary and nomadic. Amongst them are the Tuareg and Wodaabe, many of whom are still nomadic. They move with their camels, long-horned cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys seeking pastures along the Sahelian savannah at the fringes of the South Sahara.
"There’s a lot going on inside this music!"
Pitchwork June 2013
New album Sahara Sessions released on June 2013
The Sahara Sessions was recorded deep in thedesert. Sheltered only by an animal-skin tentand the vast canopy of midnight stars, EtranFinatawa played their guitars and sang straightfrom the heart. Each poignant song and everyslap of the calabash drum articulating the deepsetdivisions in the Sahel region that arethreatening their Nomad way of life.
Etran Finatawa was formed as a band at the time of the 2004 Festival in the Desert near Timbuctou. The literal meaning of their name is ‘the stars of tradition’. They are the first group to use the songs and music of the Wodaabe in a modern context. They began as a group of ten musicians who wanted to unite these two nomadic cultures as a symbol of peace and reconciliaton. The touring and recording band consists of five players two of whom are Tuareg and three, Wodaabe-Fulani. In Niger the Wodaabe and the Tuareg live side by side on the desert’s fringes sharing pastures and water sources which sometimes leads to feuding. They work together to be strong and to give their culture a future in this changing world. The music of the two tribes is very different but the way it has been combined has produced a powerful and hypnotic sound and a new musical style of Nomad Blues.
By 2005 they were touring Europe and appearing at WOMAD in 2006, after that they have travelled the wider world and have been to all five continents since. Three times to the US in 2008. In Niger their music has a cult following and their songs are sung by the young and school children all over the country.
The traditional Wodaabe chants are a remarkable blend of choral polyphony and high tenor solos. They wear their traditional long embroidered tunics, leather hose and turbans with ostrich feathers as they would at their annual desert festivals. They adorn their faces with yellow spots and stripes to enhance their looks, and accompany their vocal music with the traditional calabasse (gourd) drums and a slow motion type of movement verging on dance and handclapping. The Tuareg have always used a variety of string instruments, tende drums and ululations to animate their songs and dances and since the 1970s they have used the guitar. This guitar style is called Ichumar and came out of their rebellion and exile in Libya, and is part of the repertoire of Etran Finatawa. They wear long flowing garments and touareg turbans.
From the richness of these two united but distinct cultures they compose and sing their songs in two different languages, the Tuareg Tamashek and the Wodaabe Fulfulde. Their songs tell tales from nomadic life, of isolation and liberty, of extreme hardship and poverty, of a harsh climate, of beautiful women and happy days, of life giving animals and handsome beasts, of festivities and families, of stars and desert storms. Some of their songs are healing songs as they use music as a therapy in both cultures. In this interchange of modern and traditional songs, handclapping and rich percussion often lead the songs and are an invitation to dance while the solo guitar of Alhousseini Mohamed Anivolla gives a special Blues groove to their music. Their melodies, rhythms and vocals create a sound picture of the grasslands of the Sahel and arid desert. The rich and heady blend of the particular vocal sound of the Wodaabe singer, Bammo Agonla , the strong singing voice of the Touareg Alhousseini Mohamed Anivolla and the polyphonic chorus of the whole band is the highly innovative, unique and rich sound and performance of Etran Finatawa.
Bagui Bouga R.I.P
Bagui co-founded Etran Finatawa to bring together his nomadic Wodaabe heritage and musical culture together with the other nomadic people of Niger, the Touareg. Bringing his distinctive Wodaabe polyphonic singing and mesmerizing percussion together with the Touareg ichumar guitar style, Bagui was central to Etran Finatawa's vision of a fusion of desert nomadic styles.
Striking in his traditional Wodaabe colourful dress, yellow face paint and ostrich feather, Bagui was an unforgettable presence in live performances. As well as being a musical innovator, he was also a nomad philosopher, bringing his reflections on the nature of the Wodaabe way of life into his songwriting for Etran Finatawa.
We have no words for our pain and sadness! We send all our compassion to his family, his wife and his children.
Bagui has been a philosopher, a nomad. He knew so well his culture and he enjoyed sharing his knowledge of his cultural heritage with many people.
We will miss him for his music, for his art, his inspiration, intellectual exchange. His capacities, his compassion, his sensitivity were unique.
He left us too early. Hopefully “gaynako”, our herdsman will find there we he wanders to plenty of rain and nice and green pastureland with plenty of cows and peace for his soul!
We will always remember him.
ETRAN FINATAWA IS ON TOUR IN EUROPE in May and June 2014