'tightly structured songs are mixed with passages of thrilling improvisation... the album brims with a contagious freedom' 4****stars, Top Of The World, Songlines

'this has an authentic intimacy which some recordings of desert blues bands haven't had...' 4.5 stars, The NZ Herald

'it can feel as though the music is being made right in the room with you' 7.1 Pitchfork

8/10, Uncut

Listen to Etran Finatawa on NPR: 'In A Desert Encampment, Songs Of A Vanishing Way Of Life'

The Sahara Sessions

Simmering political troubles and excruciating economic hardship pose a dangerous threat to the nomadic way of life and the rich cultures of Niger. Divining their solution to these issues, Etran Finatawa celebrate their diverse heritage and call for its preservation to be a priority for Nigeriens and listeners the world over.

The Sahara Sessions opens with ‘Matinfa’, a gently rippling introduction peppered with traditional percussion; tendé, calabash and azakalabó (a calabash drum that floats in water) drums are all heard. The song title translates as ‘What Is This For?’ and is the first signifier of the album’s intent to comment on the tumultuous status of the Sahel region today. Although Niger has displayed a firm opposition to separatism that plagued neighbouring country Mali in 2012, the troubles have inevitably caused insecurity in the Sahel region and the threat to the countries rich and varied cultures is a very real concern. Etran Finatawa’s members are of Tuareg and Wodaabe heritages – neighboring tribes that both live as nomads. Water shortages and land disputes have led to deep-set economic issues that cause conflict and misunderstanding across communities. The work Etran Finatawa do to promote unity and understanding is invaluable. 

The album presents a collection of tracks: some fixed compositions developed and created by the band and others spontaneous improvisations that capture the spirit of the tent recordings.  Songs such as ‘An Mataf Germanawen’ (Union) and ‘Issuad’ (Let’s Come Together) patiently call for attention to be paid to the political situation.

Various guests also join then band on the album – arrangements that occurred organically and were spontaneously initiated. One of these, a Tuareg percussionist by the name of Ayouba arrived at the camp one night, revving out of the darkness on his motorbike. Before long Ayouba had set up his calabash drum and was spreading his contagious high-energy vibe like wildfire. His articulations can be heard on the three tracks ‘Matinfa’,  ‘Icheraid Azaman’ and ‘Toumast’. ‘Wa Oyan A Wa Imouss I Bastila’ is an excerpt from an improvisation with Abdourahaman Ag Ibrahim, a well-known local griot (praise-singer and oral historian), who came to visit the tent where Etran Finatawa were recording.

Etran Finatawa are as captivating as the horizon-stretching desert where the pitched their tent to record. Like the desert their music stretches out across the sands of time and culture.

Etran Finatawa