14 August 2008

Mauritania On Air

Mauritania has been on my mind recently. And not just because the relatively unknown nation in northwest Africa has been in political turmoil since a military coup last week. My mind was also led there by a fascinating article on Radio Mauritanie, which broadcasts from Mouakchott.

It seems that every evening from Sunday to Thursday, a man named Yahya ould Taleb ould Sioli (or, simply, Yahya) broadcasts a program called Al-Balaghat wa al-itissalat al-shaabiya (or, simply, Al Balaghat -- "the messages"). The format is simple: Short messages are sent in by listeners around the desert nation, announcing births, deaths, weather, travels, and other social news.

"Radio was what connected Mauritanians, taught us that there was a state, that there was a president, and there were ministers, and there was a parliament," says Mauritanian radio personality Mohamed Lemine Salleck in explaining the show's importance. "There were shows with singers, and we took time to sit and listen to the music, but when Al-Balaghat came on, it was more important. The other world was for leisure, but this was something that could change your life."

[mp3] Al Balaghat sample

You can read the complete story and listen to more audio here.

I can't understand the language, but I can appreciate the artistry in the musical reading of the announcements. The show has been on for 42 years and continues undaunted by the advent of high-tech forms of communication.


I don't have a lot of music from Mauritania, but one artist who has released music internationally is the singer Malouma (full name Malouma Mint Moktar Ould Meidah -- what is it with Mauritanians and king-sized names??) comes from a griot family and started to sing at age 12, inspired by traditional songs and by the singers she heard on the radio: Oum Kalthoum, Hlim Hafez, Fairouz, Dine, Nasri Cherns, and others.

Malouma's music frequently explores themes of injustice, gender inequality, and oppression, though this one is more of a love song. She sings: "With a destructive song / She wraps a scarf around her head / Or slips into her bubu to seduce me / All the time I spend loving her."

[mp3] Malouma: Welfi
from the album Dunya
(Malouma also has a newer CD out, called Nour)

Malouma on YouTube
Malouma's website: www.malouma.com
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