continental drift 1/18/23: mauritania

This week we are drifting (in a continental fashion) to Mauritania! Find the playlist here, and listen back to the episode here.

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a country in Northwest Africa, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Western Sahara, Algeria, Mali, and Senegal. The name Mauritania is derived from the dominant ethnic group, the Moors. Its official language is Arabic, though pulaar, soninke, wolof, and french are also officially recognized. Its signed language is Francophone African Sign LanguageSince independence from France in 1960, Mauritania has been culturally, linguistically, and politically part of the Arab world; they belong to the Arab League and the official religion is Islam. 

Moorish music can be roughly divided into ‘folk’ music and ‘classical’ music. Folk music includes lullabies, work songs, game songs, courting songs, shepherd songs, and religious praise ‘songs’, and the classical music is of the Iggawen, or griots. The music industry in Mauritania is limited: the first professional studio opened in 2003, and they are only now starting to develop a nightlife where popular music is played.

Tidinit - N´Goni (instrumento musical) - EcuRed

The tidinit

Jakwar is a style of dance music that was created in 1976 by Jheich ould Abba, a blind musician from Atar in Northern Mauritania. It was named after the fast French fighter jets, “Jaguar,” that often flew over northern Mauritania during the Saharan war.  It was made by amplifying the tidinit, a traditional 5-string lute. 

Jakwar sample:
“Guera” // Idoumou ould Jheich ould Abba (surge of wedding)

Iggawen started playing Jakwar on the electric guitar instead of the tidinit, and Hammadi ould Nana is credited as the first to do so. Hammadi learned tidinit from his father and was also influenced by his paternal grandmother, who led a group of three female singers. Hammadi was trained on the traditional tidinit music but was more interested in the Haratin folk music. 

The music of Mauritania, Part One. « Music Time in Africa

Hammadi ould Nana

In the late 1960s, one of his cousins had brought a guitar with him. When his cousin left Tidjikja several months later, the guitar did not leave with him. Over the next couple of years Hammadi started to develop a unique repertoire of guitar melodies; a repertoire that both conformed to the strict modal structures of Moorish music, and drew on Haratin folk rhythms. Running his acoustic guitar through a radio amplifier, and accompanied by his sister, several percussionists, and a chorus of female singers, Hammadi was starting to develop the sound that would make his name. When he was gifted an electric guitar, his distinctive style took form. 

Electric jakwar sample:
Hammadi ould Nana, live recording July 2000

This next recording features two young sisters, Hudho mint Abba (16 years old) and Guine mint Abba (14 years old), accompanied by their mother Mukhtara mint Nana on Ardin, an eleven string harp, and their cousin Idoumou ould Jheich ould Abba on Tidinit. This recording was made in a “small blue-walled room at 11 pm.”

Small Blue Walled Segment:
Hudho mint Abba, Guine mint Abba, Mukhtara mina Nana, & Idoumou ould Abbba

Between Tradition And Taboo: The Music Of Malouma


Female musicians are considered rare in Mauritania, though, paradoxically, the most popular musicians are often female. Dimi Mint Abba is known for her ‘salon music.’ Both of her parents were musicians, and her father was commissioned to compose the national anthem.

Malouma is a singer, politician, and activist. She’s been exiled from Mauritania (and since let back in) for her views on women’s rights and caste inequality. She’s earned the recognition of Knight of the Legion of Honor from France for her activism.

Female musician segment:
Hassaniya Song for Dancing // Khalifa Ould Eide, Dimi Mint Abba
Biyé // Ooleya Mint Amartichitt
Yarab // Malouma 
Ghlana // Noura Mint Seymali

The Orchestre National De Mauritanie was created in 1968 following independence from France, but they were shut down in 1975 after a military coup overthrew the Daddah regime. All of their recordings were nearly destroyed in the coup when the radio archive was looted by loyal military forces. During the chaos, one heroic radio engineer snuck into the archives and salvaged the reels of the music which were sequestered in his home for the past decades.

Orchestre segment:
Mauritanie Mon Pays, Que J’aime (Mauritania My Country, Which I Love) // Orchestre National de Mauritanie
La Mone (The Monk) // Orchestre National de Mauritanie

Modern Music segment:
Kar // Ahmedou Ahmed Lowl
Zina // Babylone