Noura Mint Seymali is breaking ground. Heir to a Mauritanian Griot lineage stretching back for untold generations, Noura is blasting forward on the ancient spaceship of pentatonic desert blues and carving out a personality on her way as vanguard Diva of the Sahel.
As the daughter of the late Seymali Ould Mouhamed Val, a revered scholar-musician credited as the first person to apply written notation to folk music in Mauritania, Noura possesses the sort of aural precision that is the glue of traditions across time. She is a tradition bearer. In her teenage years she was groomed as a choriste with Dimi Mint Abba (her step-mother), one of the first and only Mauritanian artists to be “discovered” in the West. But despite all this traditional cred and the fast-and-easy money that traditional weddings represent – where the musicians are literally showered in bills of Ouguiya (“Make it rain” origins?) – Noura has distanced herself from the usual griot venues in favor of a modern orchestra and the international festival circuit.
At Mali’s famous Festival au Desert, Spain’s Pirineos and Noches de Ramadan, and with dates in Maroc, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo-Brazzaville, Algeria, and Sénégal, Noura has made her debut on the international stage, attracting attention for her vocal agility, depth and range. Her particular brand of so-called Afropop is one that reflects the context of métissage from which it originates – the cultural geography of Mauritania being where Arab and Black Africa coalesce – effortlessly linking tonal and rhythmic modalities from opposite sides of the Sahara and setting it to a back beat.
Mauritania’s unusual position between these macro-cultural networks finds its most obvious manifestation in digital age domestic life via ubiquitous satellite TV, where avid consumption of programming ranging from Turkish soaps and Saudi news to the latest music videos of Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Lebanon is an across-class feature of homes (broadband is still largely relegated to cyber cafés). A mother of three and a product of this more eclectic generation, Noura is unafraid to compose melancholy Moorish reggae or sing traditional over techno beats. Its really just a matter of what catches her interest.