Sunken Treasure: Mammane Sani Abdoulaye’s ‘La Musique Électronique du Niger’
It was recorded in a studio at Niger National Radio in two takes. As few as 100 cassettes were made. Its survival is almost as miraculous as its provenance
The romantic notion of the musician making music in splendid isolation purely for their own volition is a concept that has been rendered almost obsolete in the modern world.
The immense evolution in the tools of the trade has changed all of this. The means of making music has found its way into our pockets in the shape of smartphones for one thing. Generating sound is now just a click away.
Things were a lot different in Niamey in 1978. The capital of Niger is where Mammane Sani Abdoulaye called home. A deep love for music was inculcated by his family. His father’s occupation as a librarian at the American Cultural Centre was a blessing. Information on the world at large was at his fingertips and he was fortunate enough to have the sound of elsewhere reaching his curious ears. The seeds of his artistry were sown early.
Through his position as a functionary with Unesco, he got to spread his wings and visit Japan and Europe. Travel broadened his musical horizons further and on one such trip he purchased the second-hand electronic organ that would enable him to realise his lucid electric dreams back home.
There were no precedents for the type of compositions he conjured on this machine. His reference points were the folkloric songs and rhythms of the Wodaabe and Tuareg tribes but his solitary pursuit of a modern twist on these traditions lead him into entirely uncharted territory. His singular voyage of discovery was not in vain.
There’s magic in the languid way the tunes unfurl like desert flowers. Their surface simplicity is underpinned by a beautifully melodic undertow that draws you in unbidden. It’s deeply contemplative music. The pensive mood never wavers. The listener is a passenger on a journey to previously hidden realms.
It was recorded in a studio at Niger National Radio in two takes. As few as 100 cassettes were made. Its survival is almost as miraculous as its provenance. By sheer chance this music was discovered and released anew by the Sahel Sounds label in 2013.
I believe in miracles.