Etran de L’Aïr – No. 1 (Sahel Sounds)


The name Etran de L’Aïr translates to the Stars of the Air. They’re a Tuareg guitar band from Agadez Niger, a place renowned for its desert blues. Formed in 1995, Etran de L’Aïr is one of Agadez’s longest playing groups on the wedding, baptisim and political events circuit. Yet with little social standing they play those occasions that can’t afford the heavy hitters, something their dodgy old amps, dented drums with chunks taken out of the cymbals attest too.

All of which appealed to Sahel Sounds boss Chris Kirkley, who recorded the band performing live in the outskirts of Agadez in 2014. It sounds like a demo (or perhaps a bootleg), it’s raw, the timbre is shrill and lacking in body, you can hear people whooping and clapping in the background. It’s precisely this lack of perfection that differentiates it from the pack. This is a world away from the crisp studio articulated sounds of the likes of Tinariwen, and as a result feels more immediate, more emotive, more real.

This has been one of the great things about Sahel Sounds, their desire to present the music as is, regardless of limitations. In this sense it feels like we’re travelling with them on their sojourns into the Sahel. It is fascinating though that the easy access to technology in the west, and the relative ease with which you can make pretty much everything sound great, we’re drawn to the raw and underproduced as if its some signifier of authenticity.

Etran de L’Aïr are raucous, they’ve got three guitarists, with two often soloing over the top of and between each other, the drums sound like their cardboard boxes and the vocals are so far away from the mic that at times you feel like you’re lip reading. Yet there’s no mistaking their energy. It’s life affirming party music, community music designed to bring people together. This is their first album.


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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.