A blog about arts and societies around the world

Interview of Atri N’Assouf

Rissa Ag Wanaghli is a musician whose career is as hot as the Sun in the Sahara Desert. He’s been involved in Abdallah Oumbadougou’s Takrist N’Akal, Desert Rebel with French musicians Gizmo (Tryo), Amazigh Kateb (Gnawa Diffusion) and of course, Abdallah Oumbadougou. A life that began in the polluted region of Arlit in Niger recently lead him to meet Plume (Lili Drop, Alain Khan, art director at Polydor…) and Atri N’Assouf was born. Here’s a presentation of this talented musician and his new project.

Nicolas Roux: How have you become a musician?

Rissa Ag Wanaghli: It all started in 1987. Every year before the school holidays, a band played in every class. That year, a Malian musician came to our school. I tried hard to meet him and he offered to teach me. So I started music and later I quit school. Then in 1993 I left for Tamanrasset in Algeria to join my cousin Abdallah [Oumbadougou]. He taught me more and after that I continued my trip to Libya. There weren’t many musicians there so I formed a group and played concerts. That’s when it really began.

Nicolas: You’ve been part of a few projects. Now you’re in Atri N’Assouf. How did you meet Plume?

Rissa: It happened because of a charity event in Niger. Five bands were invited and Plume was in the audience. He asked to meet me. After we met he said it would be a good idea to form a band. I told him I couldn’t be part of band unless we were to record an album. I’ve been making music since 1987, actually my first composition dates back to 1974, therefore I had plenty of songs. He agreed to produce a CD so there it started, as a small project.

Nicolas: A few other musicians have also participated in the album.

Rissa: Yes you know, a project becomes bigger and bigger. We invited a few Touareg friends such as Abdallah from Tinariwen, Disco and Maassa from Tartit. There’s also a girl [Hadjira Fezoui] that I didn’t know, from the hip-hop band MBS (Micro Brise le Silence, Mic Breaks Silence). She’s Algerian but leaves in Paris. When I listened to her voice, I told Plume: “I have to meet her!” I really wanted her to be part of the project and she agreed. And also Jean-Philippe Rykiel.

Nicolas: Was it deliberate to gather so many different artists?

Rissa: As far as I’m concerned, I’d really like to make music with various artists. I’d like to find out more about artists from the West.

Nicolas: Quite a few Touareg musicians offer a rather dark vision, but when I listened to Akal, I thought it was a little happier.

Rissa: Yes it’s happier because it’s something that we love to do. And also when I compose, I think of the bassist or the percussionist and what they like to do. Back home some artists just write according to their tastes and the others must follow. So everyone feels happy in our band and it’s joy!

Nicolas: You also write the lyrics. What topics do you address?

Rissa: I mainly talk about union, love, education of children, my country, and our sufferings.

Nicolas: Atri n’ Assouf means the star of the desert. What does the Sahara Desert represent to you?

Rissa: The Desert represents everything to me. It’s almost my other half. Here in France, I feel a little bit like a stranger but I feel good in the Desert, it’s really home.

Nicolas: You grew up in Arlit, a city in northern Niger, next to the open-pit uranium mine exploited by Areva. How were the life conditions there?

Rissa: People don’t usually know that uranium makes you sick. I didn’t know it was dangerous either. It’s in France that I found out that people there lived in a polluted area that was bad for health. People there are really innocent. There’s no information. It’s hard because I could see many people falling sick for no reasons and then I found out it was because of radiation. I swam a lot in basins where they put wastes. There’s gurads but you know when young people see water, they want to take a dip.

Nicolas: Has the situation changed nowadays?

Rissa: Now there’s more information. More people have realised through Europeans and associations that it was dangerous. But when I look back, I would have rather grown up somewhere else, in the countryside. I know there are remains of pollution within me. It’s the same for everyone.

Nicolas: Would you say that Atri n’ Assouf music is for Westerners? Or do you consider it purely Touareg?

Rissa: It’s not for Westerners only. It’s my own style but it remains Touareg. Touareg, Touareg!

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