I shouldn't be personally offended that many don't know about or consider Noura Mint Seymali the best singer in the world and her band the best band in the world. But I am. Grievously so. It's a slight I feel in my bones that causes me to slander all other bands, no matter how worthy. Noura Mint Seymali's new album, Arbina, is one of the best albums of the year. Not one of the best "world music" albums, whatever that means, but one the best albums. Full stop. Period. I want to list every album it's far better than, in detail, starting with Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool, but I don't imagine Noura Mint Seymali would appreciate that.
Noura Mint Seymali's music touches on folk, psych, funk, and rock, but fits neatly nowhere. She's in a genre, "Azaewan," that, referring to Moorish pop from Mauritania, pretty much just consists of her, her husband, and the rest of her band, and that's it. I met her and her band once, to interview them all for Noisey for their previous excellent album, Tzenni, and they all seemed extremely nice. But, really, I want to impress upon you this this album is very good. Well, I'm excited about it.
Arbina is a name for god and the whole album, produced by drummer Mathew Tinari with engineering by Pere Ubu/Brooklyn legend Tony Maimone, is heavy and soaring in the contradictory manner worship can both encompass and absolve. Much has already been written about the influence of both Hendrix and Mark Knopfler on the guitar technique of many West African players (basically, in the 80s, cheap Dire Straits and Jimi tapes spread through the region, influencing pop and desert blues alike) but on Arbina, Seymali's husband, Jeiche Ould Chighaly, and his modified for Moorish scales guitar takes his influences, both contemporary and griot, further afield than ever before. Imagine all the solos from Marquee Moon played in succession and as dance music. The rhythm section of drummer Tinari and bassist Ousmane Touré also take the steady grounding funk of Tzenni and upend it into a roiling and unexpected back and forth, sometimes dub, sometimes straight up prog. And, as always, the center piece is Noura Mint Seymali herself, one of the most singular voices out there, singing songs ranging from the necessity of woman's healthcare to odes to the band's native Mauritania to the transcendent nature of music to, of course, the grace only available through the higher universal powers. It's heady stuff and if you don't speak Arabic, that's OK, you can't understand the words in Deafheaven songs either.
It's dangerous to compare music from one region to whatever Western cultural touchstones one happens to have lying around. Often inaccurate at best, condescending at worst, to pretend that the world is playing at the rock/pop/hip-hop axis that dominates my limited coastal tunnel existence. So please don't take my ravings about Noura Mint Seymali as some sort of canonical interjection. The griot tradition of West Africa and musical back and forth between the region's guitar bands and western blues/rock is extensive while traditional Arabic and Moorish influence on international avant garde is immeasurable so Noura Mint Seymali doesn't need fulsome praise that is dependent on strained comparisons to indie bands du jour or what is or was hip. She's already hip as hell. I'm just saying that she's empirically and objectively better than what you're currently listening to. That's all.
Arbina, which Noura Mint Seymali has graciously allowed us to stream below, is out on Glitterbeat Records digitally in the US on September 16 with a full vinyl release on October 14.