Niger is a West African country located south of Algeria and north of Nigeria. For thousands of years, the region has been a crossroads between the Arabs of North Africa and the sub-Saharan cultures, so it is not surprising that Niger has a very rich cultural heritage. The Tuareg and the Wodaabe people are just two of eleven ethnic groups who live there.
The Wodaabe and Tuareg often share the same environment, as both of them are nomads of the Sahelian savannah. The Wodaabe people are famous for their herds of mahogany-coloured cattle, whereas the Tuareg are, among other things, famous camel breeders. Though they live next to each other, their cultures are very diverse. Even their languages belong to different linguistic families. The Wodaabe speak Fulfulde, which is used widely over West Africa and also the spoken language of the Fulbe people, the huge ethnic family to which the Wodaabe belong. The Tuareg speak Tamashek, a Berber language that is again widely spoken in West Africa, but also in North Africa, from Morocco to Algeria down to Mali and Niger.
Though the Wodaabe and Tuareg are very different people, they are both nomadic. They share the beauty of their environment as well as the many difficulties nomads have to face in the modern-day world: droughts, famine, poverty and the loss of animals.
This shared experience is one of the reasons why Etran Finatawa came together to make music, and in January 2004 the ten musicians – six Wodaabe and four Tuareg – decided to create this new group. In less than two years, the band became well-known in Niger and was subsequently invited to festivals in Mali and Morocco. Their European debut started with a two-month tour of Holland, Germany and Switzerland in the summer of 2005.
Etran Finatawa, which means ‘the stars of tradition’, combines the two rich nomadic cultures without losing the essential character of either, overcoming ethnic borders and racism. Because the group members are all nomads and face similar problems, they work together to be strong and to give their cultures a future in this changing world. The band is a symbol of peace and reconciliation. They have found their style, combining the polyphonic songs of the Wodaabe people with modern arrangements. Traditional instruments marry perfectly with electric guitars. Some of the tracks on their album have the specific character of healing songs, as music is still a therapeutic medium in both the Wodaabe and Tuareg cultures. Others remind us, by their rhythm, of the camel’s walk, and you can easily imagine yourself in the middle of the desert or the Sahelian grasslands.
They released their BBC Award-nominated debut, Introducing Etran Finatawa, in 2006, followed by a second album, Desert Crossroads – a nostalgic look at life in the desert – in 2008, and their latest recording, Tarkat Tajje/Let’s Go!, which portrays their evolving musical journeys in the travels in the Sahara.
Since their creation they have toured all over the world, including stops in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Singapore, South America and Europe.
The free track below, Aitimani, is from their latest release Tarkat Tajje / Let’s Go!