A blog about arts and societies around the world

On the road with Nabil Baly Othmani

I recently followed Nabil Baly Othmani during their European tour. Relive a day on the road with this Touareg band from Djanet, South Algeria. Find out also about their latest album, Ayt Ma. Hop on!

“Guys, we’ve got to go!” unconvincingly shouts Cath, the band’s manager, while glancing at me with a look that seems to say: “we’re not gone yet!” Nabil and his bassist Dia are experimenting with their new PA in the garden. May (percussions) is chilling in front of TV while Barka (guitar) is showing me photos of his family. Cath’s task won’t be an easy one for sure.

They eventually find the necessary motivation. It takes them few moments to pack up the gear and we’re ready to hit the road.

Nabil and DiaThe concert is taking place in an open space near Lyon, South East of France. It’s a private and unique setting with a small stage fitting next to a barbecue where classic Algerian food is being cooked. As we’re having a tajine and a chorba with a traditional mint tea, the band is mentally already on stage. The last rays of sunlight are fading in the horizon. The performance is about to start.

The first guitar riffs kick off the show effortlessly. The band plays a mix of songs from their first album (Tamghart In) and the latest one. The crowd remains quite careful and shy. They’re obviously enjoying the music but they stay put. Barka teases them: “are you having fun? Because we can’t see it!”

The audience is actually like diesel. They don’t need much more. Another song gives a final touch on the accelerator and the dance floor finally explodes. The band enters a state of madness and the energy on stage is at its peak. The musicians improvise frenzied choreographies. As the pressure is building up, Barka now tells the audience with the same humorous tone: “are you having fun? Now we can see it!”

BarkaFor Nabil Baly Othmani is not a band that carefully prepares their sets. The group leader Nabil rather throws a few chords on his guitar and the band follows. The audience then plays a significant role in the way the band performs.

After two hours of a furious performance, my knees can no longer hold my body and my mind is filled with happy melodies. It’s already time to pack up and head back home. Barka gets in my car. As the band’s latest album is playing in the background, he starts singing along and he gives a brand new function to my car’s front window shelf: it’s now a djembé!

3AM and I’m finally back home. I have to say that the concert stirred up my curiosity. I really feel like listening to the album on proper speakers but I’m not sure I’ve got enough energy. It doesn’t take me too much time to wonder and the CD is already playing.

What strikes me at first is the energy of the album. I can definitely notice the same spark I did earlier this evening on stage. Teswa Ténéré kicks in with a catchy melody and a binary bassline that boosts the rhythm is all simplicity.

One thing for sure, Nabil Baly Othmani has climbed up a level with this new release. Contrary to the first album, a full line-up is gathered. The bass adds depth, female vocals broaden the musical scope while the variety of percussions used (djembé, derbuka, kerkab, cajon) exposes widened geographical influences.

Like in the first album, the music blends different genres. A bit of flamenco (Temse Takhtik) with a dash of blues (Sahara Blues) to a base of Touareg ingredients obviously. The reggae-like beat of Afrika stands out right the first time around. Awadam stays within the more common wave of Touareg “ishumar” music.

To sum it up, the artwork on the front cover reveals perfectly the spirit of the album. A guitar player is drawn in the manner of the rock paintings that can be found in the region of Tassili, South Algeria. In other words, a touch of modernity on a traditional canvas.

The Othmani family has been well established in artistic circles. Baly, Nabil’s father, was the first to make a name at the international level while Khadija, his grandmother, was a famous tindé player, a customary Touareg percussion. Nabil further explores the tradition. He offers a serious alternative to the likes of renowned band such as Tinariwen.

Behind the scenes of the recording sessions of Ayt Ma:

Photo credit: Cath Legras, Nicolas Roux


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