Ahmoudou Madassane – Zerzura (Sahel Sounds)


Firstly the concept of a Saharan acid western is pretty tempting, and the trailers I’ve seen are pretty impressive. It’s apparently the tale of a nomad’s search for a magic city of gold. Yet without having seen the film we’re dealing with the soundtrack as a stand alone.

The score is predominantly solo electric guitar, in the Tuareg blues traditions, often slowed down, and left to resonate. It’s fascinating hearing these pieces solo, with the vocals and percussion stripped away. Though admittedly it’s hard to go past the spectre of Neil Young’s incredible score to Dean Man – which was constructed in much the same manner (the guitarist watching the image and improvising along). They come from very different traditions however, and given their approach differs, so to do the results.

It’s the work of writer and actor Ahmoudou Madassane, who’s played with other Sahel Sounds luminaries like Mdou Moctar and Les Filles de Illighadad. Whilst he maintains a self imposed structure to some extent, the lack of accompanying musicians provides him the freedom to play with tempo and move outside of conventional expectations and experiment. It’s a bit of a push and pull situation though, with the more that you deviate the more you dilute the hypnotic effect of repetition.

Madassane also plays a handful of other in-studio instrumentation (prepared piano, Moog, Timpani) and is joined by a number of collaborators, including guitarist Marisa Anderson.

There is something deeply meditative about this work. You would imagine the sparseness of the guitar would translate well to the wide open spaces of the desert and the shimmer of heat on the horizon. Featuring excerpts from the film, and some ambient synthetic drones, it’s a fascinating soundtrack where the starkness and simplicity conjur together to create so much more.


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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.