Sahel Sounds have excavated a peculiar and beautiful cassette from 1985, from Tudu a small village in the neighbourhood of Agadez, Niger. It’s the sound of an all girl school group, created for an inter school talent show. Lacking a choir proper, they enlisted a Tuareg guitarist Kader “Barmo” Balla, and in doing so won first prize and an invitation to record an album. This is that album.
The liner notes state, “The compositions mixed traditional folksongs with original creations, but the lyrical content was political. At a time of massive rural migration, drought, and exodus, their songs were a message to the modern nomads, emphasizing traditional culture while stressing the importance of education, particularly for young women.”
The guitar is sparse and minimal, the melody coming from the various voices. They also periodically employ similarly spare percussion. The children’s voices often shrill, are remarkably soulful, and their ability to meld together creates an exuberant and at times endearing cacophony. It’s often call and response, though regularly one of the children will take the lead, and it’s difficult not to marvel at their vocal ability. This doesn’t feel like an amateur school choir. These guys manage to hit all the notes. It’s also fascinating to hear these youthful voices where you’d normally expect to hear aged and wizened tones. It really is an oddity.
The sound of the recording is murky and crackly, particularly initially. Yet this only adds to the allure. Apparently the cassette is incredibly rare and this is the only copy that could be located. It’s so curious and unexpected that it’s pretty much the last kind of music you would ever expect to hear in the west, and in simply issuing it, it’s quite a bold statement for Sahel Sounds.