Footsteps in Africa Soundtrack :: Nomadic Remix
With its culture on the brink of extinction, the Tuaregs of the Sahara region have become a cause celebre amongst hipster preservationists. Like the Tibetans and Sarawak Indians, the Tuaregs have had a rough time dealing with the incursion of modern society's demands that require people to stay in one place. All over the globe, the delicate threads that hold nomadic cultures together are being threatened by governments bent on curbing their traditional wanderings for the sake of economic development. In the same way that the first nations of North America were put on reserves and the Ariaal and Rendille of Kenya were forced to change their eons old nomadic lifestyle to 'preserve the environment' — an environment whose delicate balance had ironically been respected and preserved for millennia — the Tuareg of the Sahara have been encouraged to set up in villages and leave the dust of camel trails far behind them. But, the Tuaregs like all nomad societies are cultures of movement whose livelihoods are deeply grounded in hearing and responding to the echoes of the lands and its rhythms. Not surprisingly, Tuareg music reflects this lifestyle and melodies from this region all have insinuated rhythms deeply woven into them.
Anyone who even casually follows popular music knows that Touareg songs can be heard everywhere these days. Tinariwen, by far the most popular band from this region, topped music critics' polls last year and many — myself included — selected 'Imadiwan:Companions' the band's most recent CD as the number one album of 2009. In light of this, the British protest singer Billy Bragg was prompted to say that it won't be long before the loping rhythms that define Tuareg music find their way into western songs in the same way that reggae inflections did three decades ago. Obviously, Mr. Bragg doesn't listen to a lot of electronic music or he'd realized that it's already happening.
In the same way that Bob Marley made reggae more palatable to western listeners with the simple inclusion of a lead electric guitar, remix artists are having a field day by playing with the loping Tuareg rhythms that easily mesh with current club music aesthetics. For those looking to explore the intersection of Tuareg traditions with electronic music, there's no better place to start listening than by checking out the newly released Footsteps in Africa:Nomadic Remix CD.
Footseps in Africa is a film shot in 2006 in the Malian desert by Kathi Von Koerber. In this film, she examines the rhythms of Tuareg life in particular and the vagaries of nomadic life in general. It is a beautifully shot documentary that features scenes of nomads from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger meeting and playing music together for hours under the desert sun and moon. More than anything else, it is a film about human beings' relationship to the land, and how certain groups of people have developed their whole cultural lives around responding to the transcendental frequency that the earth emits.
When I first heard about this project, I had concerns about the fragility of Tuareg music and whether it could survive in the remix blender. After all, in today's cut and paste world, so many sounds and images are taken out of context and used thoughtlessly to decorate and bolster the whims of western consumer culture. (Witness the exploitation of yoga by corporate America) The colonies are long since gone, but cultural imperialism is still in evidence anywhere, and I was prepared for the worst when this CD arrived in the mail. Thankfully, my fears were largely unfounded and the music fits in well with a film that explores sensitivity to sound and emoting spiritual truth through music. Without exception, the remixes respect this aesthetic and are low on random thumps and pointless amplification. For the most part, 'Footsteps in Africa Soundtrack:Nomadic Remix' is a wonderfully successful album and the alternating lazy and staccato rhythms fit perfectly into the remixer's palette, and in many ways blend and respond more easily than many other traditional musics do.
A quick glance through the track list reveals that a virtual who's who of world music DJs was recruited for this project, and - without exception — their conjurations are spot on and never disappoint. Personal favourites include 'Open', Bombay Dub Orchestra's remix of Hassan Hakmoun's earthy desert blues track and Adham Shaikh's heady 'Tuareg Women's Jam.' Cheb I Sabbah continues his love affair with music from this region by offering a nice splintering version of 'Hyena' that should have people heading for the dance floor. Nice trippy tracks from Jef Stott, dimmSummer, Kaya Project and Earthrise Soundsystem are definitely worth checking out.
While it's true that music alone may not be enough to save the Tuareg culture, projects like the Footsteps film and remix CD go a long way towards shedding light on this often forgotten part of the world. 'Footsteps in Africa Soundtrack: Nomadic Remix' may well be the remix album of the summer, and it will certainly won't be leaving my stereo any time soon. Check it out. This one comes highly recommended.