Noura Mint Seymali – Arbina (2016)

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The release of Noura’s debut album “Tzenni”(2014) launched her onto year-end top ten lists and the stages of renowned international festivals. Vice/Noisey hailed ”Tzenni” as “arguably the best psych / blues album of the year” and NPR noted: “the arrival of Mauritanian vocalist Noura Mint Seymali in front of Western audiences feels like the start of a new era.” In 2015, Noura was named at the African Union’s first-ever AFRIMA awards as “Best Female Artist from North Africa” and in June of this year, she joined Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians for a high-profile European tour presented by Africa Express.

Noura Mint Seymali now returns with a blistering second album.

Arbina is Noura Mint Seymali’s second international release. Delving deeper into the wellspring of Moorish roots, as is after all the tried and true way of the griot, the album strengthens her core sound, applying a cohesive aesthetic approach to the reinterpretation of Moorish tradition in contemporary context. The band is heard here in full relief; soaring vocals and guitar at the forefront, the mesmerizing sparkle of the ardine, elemental bass lines and propulsive rhythms swirling together to conjure a 360 degree vibe. Arbina refines a sound that the band has gradually intensified over years of touring, aiming to posit a new genre from Mauritania, distinct unto itself; music of the “Azawan.”

Supported by guitarist, husband and fellow griot, Jeiche Ould Chighaly, Seymali’s tempestuous voice is answered with electrified counterpoint, his quarter-tone rich guitar phraseology flashing out lightning bolt ideas. Heir to the same music culture as Noura, Jeiche intimates the tidinit’s (Moorish lute) leading role under the wedding khaima with the gusto of a rock guitar hero. Bassist Ousmane Touré, who has innovated a singular style of Moorish low-end groove over the course of many years, can be heard on this album with greater force and vigor than ever before. Drummer/producer Matthew Tinari drives the ensemble forward with the agility and precision need to make the beats cut.

Lyrically, the Moorish griot tradition is complex and associative. Poetry is held in a continuum between author and audience in which a singer may draw on disparate sources, selecting individual lines here or there for musicality to form a lyrical patchwork expressing larger ideas via association. A griot may relate her own thoughts and poetry, sing poetry written for and about her by a third party, and transmit lines from one party addressing another in the course of a single song. With this ever-fluid narrative voice, stories are told.

Arbina is a musical act of devotion, calling upon the creator to channel grace through us and uplift our actions.

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