Les Filles de Illighada are a Tuareg female-led avant-rock group and Eghass Malan is their first studio album, the title track of which is our Song of the Day. As the band name suggests, all members of Les Filles are from Illighadad, a secluded commune in central Niger, far off in the scrubland deserts at the edge of the Sahara.
Most of us, when thinking of Tuareg guitar music will think of Tinariwen or Bombino. It’s rare to see a woman playing the guitar, it’s said that Fatou Seidi Ghali of Les Filles is one of only two female guitarists in Niger. Women are more strongly associated with the tende tradition which is widely performed by women in nomadic camps. It is this tradition that gave rise to the more popular Tuareg guitar music we’re used to hearing. In the 1970s young Tuareg men living in exile in Libya and Algeria discovered the guitar. Lacking any female vocalists to perform tende, they began to play the guitar to mimic this sound, replacing water drums with plastic jerrycans and substituting a guitar drone for the vocal call and response.
Fatou learned to play guitar by sneaking away with her older brother’s guitar. While Fatou’s role as the first female Tuareg guitarist is groundbreaking, it is just as interesting for her musical direction. In a place where gender norms have created two divergent musics, Fatou and Les Filles are reasserting the role of tende in Tuareg guitar. In lieu of the djembe or the drum kit, so popular in contemporary Tuareg rock bands, Les Filles de Illighadad incorporate the traditional drum and the pounding calabash, half buried in water. Recorded on their debut tour in Europe after just a handful of concerts, Eghass Malan maintains a feeling that is spontaneous and inspired.
In terms of other music that is available and out there, this is very different to anything else you may have heard. Hypnotic guitar riffs, driving rhythm, and polyphonic resonant vocals combine to create organic sound, that is both timeless and natural. A wholly original project, from a band that just last year had never left their village.
Christopher Kirkley, the founder of Sahel Sounds and who also produced this album, believes their current sound is still both raw and natural but that it will change over the years as they perform in situations that are different to those from where they’re from. Don’t hesitate in buying this fascinating and beautiful album.