A delightful, hypnotic video clip of Saharan keyboardist Mamman Sani Abdoulaye has surfaced via Sahel Sounds’ YouTube Channel. An extract from a 2016 DVD, Sani presides over his double-decker setup with a zen-like cool, backlit in soft red light and sporting a smart, white goatee under his Kufi. In this take of “Kok Kok Kok,” Sani piles Chaî¯bou Ayerou’s keening theme on top of itself, serenely tapping out a syncopated polyrhythm with a fluty synth. Once the arrangement has fully blossomed, it seems to take on a life of its own as Sani’s hands press controls out of time, summoning a dramatic stutter of wind gusts, chimes, and brittled snare drums.
Sani’s genius is his translation of the Tuareg “tende”–the loping beat that underpins Saharan folk strains as well as a drum traditionally played by women–to the keys. Or, more specifically, to the all-in-one digital workstation synth/sampler. While the electric guitar is known in the West as a modernizing populist instrument of the Sahel, Sani has been utilizing these keyboards since the late ’70s, developing a maverick style that stretches these instruments to their performative limits. The dated patches and timbres are elevated into a timeless realm under Sani’s spell. In his initial blog post on Sani, Sahel Sounds’ Christopher Kirkley details how the musician’s work is not only well-known but sewn into the fabric of Nigerien media, forming ” much of the repertoire of televised intermissions, radio segue-ways, and background music.” He even had his own television show on state television: “Mammane Sani et son Orgue î‰lectronique.” Parlez-vous Francais? Go deep and stream this Dounia TV doc from 2004, or just bathe in the windswept patina of Sani’s transfixing archival releases. words / a spoto