Abdallah Oumbadougou Godfather FP

Tuareg Guitar Godfather Abdallah Oumbadougou

Abdallah Oumbadougou’s music is astounding, with guitar lines that seep into one’s pores and lyrics addressing revolution, homesickness, and lost love.

Abdallah Oumbadougou :: Amghar – The Godfather of Tuareg Music, Vol. 1
Abdallah Oumbadougou
1 March 2024

Thanks mainly to Tinariwen‘s global acclaim over the last quarter century, recordings of and love for trance-inducing, single-chord, blues-adjacent guitar-based music from West Africa’s massive Saharan and Sahelian regions have exploded across the globe. Bombino, Terakaft, Etran Finitawa, Etran de l’air, Mdou Moctar, Les Filles de Illighidad, Ahmed Ag Kaedy, Afous D’Afous, and others have found Western audiences thanks in no small part to the work of labels such as Sahel Sounds. One thing these bands have in common is their ability to use the guitar to build and percolate, creating waves of intensity while surfing on minimal chord shifts. Live songs can stretch for ten minutes or more, driving audiences to ecstasy.

Equally as crucial, almost all of the above-referenced groups are semi-nomadic, Tamasheq-speaking Tuareg, living across an area that spreads from the deserts of extreme southern Algeria down into Mali and east into Niger. Able to survive in harsh conditions, these people have been marginalized from the colonizing forces of the past, as well as the governing forces of the present. Over the decades, rebellions have been followed by an uneasy peace. As a result, their music concerns itself with a demand for autonomy and a need for resistance, and the music of one of Tuareg guitar’s founders, Abdallah Oumbadougou, is no exception.

A 1995 recording that Sahel Sounds has reissued found Oumbadougou in Benin working with producer Nel Oliver and led to Anou Malane, one of the earliest Tuareg guitar recordings, but Petaluma’s release, Abdallah Oumbadougou :: Amghar – The Godfather of Tuareg Music, Vol. 1, is the first compilation of his other recordings to see vinyl release in the West. Considering Oumbadougou passed in 2020 from a heart attack, this compilation comes not a moment too soon.

By the time Abdallah Oumbadougou was growing up in the 1960s, the area of North Niger where he was from had been embroiled in fights with the French for decades. He witnessed increasing droughts and experienced life in a region recently carved up by external forces with no consideration for what had been a free-roaming people who did not identify with any official country boundaries. Once he traveled even farther north as a teenager to work in a uranium mine, he discovered the guitar. By the time he was grown, in the 1980s, he made the brutal 500 km trek from Arlit, Niger, to Tamanrasset, Algeria, where he worked as a crane operator and played guitar for enthusiastic gatherings.

Like original members of Tinariwen, he and thousands of other stateless Tuareg answered the call to come to Libya for military training, ideally, to be then more able to liberate their people who lived on the margins of countries they never belonged to. Here, in Libyan camps, the music traveled via cassette players, delivering messages of rebellion and freedom in a landscape devoid of media. Here, Oumbadougou and his band Takrist Nakal added to the “samizdat grapevine”. Camps were outfitted with electricity and stages for live performances as well.

The recording dates for this collection appear to be something of a mystery. He was known to have recorded in 1997, 2006, and finally, in 2012, but it’s likely these tracks aren’t from any of these sessions. They are, by and large, acoustic, with occasional percussion and multiple guitars. At least one track features a small string ensemble, while others are live, electric, and feel more recent. Because of the wealth of such music now available, they don’t seem as revelatory as they might, but none of this detracts from their importance, considering Abdallah Oumbadougou’s stature and place in Tuareg guitar history.

Nevertheless, the music here is astounding, with guitar lines that seep into one’s pores and lyrics addressing revolution, homesickness, recognition of martyrs, and lost love. Tracks such as “Nigsar Tenrere” lay in whip-like riffs, as layers of guitars compliment the grooves, commenting on the music’s foundation. Multiple voices harmonize about the revolutionaries who have proudly taken up arms.

This is music of identity. Sounds are defined as much by the boundaries imposed on a particular group of people as by the restrictions these people intend to break through. As such, it has much in common with the sounds of the First Nation Pow Wows of North America or the traditional music shared by the Hmong of Northern Vietnam. If not in style or instrumentation, then certainly in its naked necessity. So much music is ultimately about demands for inclusion and respect. Because of this, the sounds found here are about so much more than their global audience may comprehend.

RATING 8 / 10