Dag Tenere: Translating The Desert Blues Of Niger

The lineage of the Blues is planted amidst ancient African sounds that followed the diaspora somewhere between the crossroads of the USA and back again. This ever evolving sounds is in the DNA of what’s internationally known as the Desert Blues in Niger. When I came across a band called Dag Terere based in Niger, something about their music resonating with my soul. My ears where like a magnet to their new EP “Iswat” (released on June 4th and available on all music platforms). My body danced with the beauty of their deep rooted percussion, layered in electrifying guitars and adorned with mystifying vocals. “Iswat” takes you to the core of how Dag Tenere continues to preserve their culture. I was extremely captivated and wanted to learn more. Check out my intriguing interview with Dag Terere.

Band members and positions:

– Ibrahim Ahmed Guita: songwriter/performer (guitar, voice).

– Goumar Abdoul Jamil: songwriter/performer (guitar, voice).

– Zaid Ag Abdoul Jamil: performer (guitar accompaniment).

– Zaina Aboubacar: performer (tendé, voice).

– Zouher Aroudaini: performer (bass).

– Gousmane Goumar “Tandja”: performer (djembe, calabash).

– Makata W. Assaleh: performer (backing vocals).

Photo courtesy of NOMADA Music 

Samantha Hollins: When was the first time you fell in love with the electrifying sound of Rock-n-Roll? 

Dag Tenere: We have been playing music since we were teenagers. Our main influences are Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré. People say it is “African Blues” or “Tuareg Rock”, but we often play without knowing it’s Rock or Blues. We just like the sound of the guitars and we try to create our own style.

Samantha Hollins: What is the language you speak and sing? 

Dag Tenere: Tamasheq (the language of the Tuaregs).

Samantha Hollins: What is the foundation of Desert Blues? How does your culture add to the foundation of your brand of Blues-Rock music?

Dag Tenere: We don’t say “Desert Blues”. We say “Teshumara” which means many things in Tamasheq. It’s the music of the “Ishumars“. It’s our nomadic way of life, etc. Music has a very important place in our culture and traditions. The music of the Ishumars was born at the end of the 70s with the creation of the group Tinariwen, which remains our reference. We also call this music “Assouf” which means nostalgia. This “new music” has as a base; the same rhythmic as the traditional Tamasheq music.

Samantha Hollins: Can you share a little about your traditional attire? It is so beautiful. 

Dag Tenere: Our traditional dress is generally composed of a boubou or dress, long or short, and leather sandals. Leather bags or purses may also be worn.  Men always wear the turban or tagelmust which can be 5 to 10 meters long. Women are not veiled and they like to wear jewelry.

Photo courtesy of NOMADA Music 

Samantha Hollins: I love that the women in the band are just as prominent as the men. How do you keep that balance in a business that could be very male dominated? 

Dag Tenere: The Tuareg society is matriarchal. Women play a very important role and are free to make decisions. Women are highly respected. As far as music is concerned, it’s the women who mainly play the traditional instruments like the tendé or the imzad. We are very happy to have two talented women in our band.

Samantha Hollins: The sounds resonating from the drums while the guitars play is phenomenal. I would love to know more about traditional Tuareg drums.

Dag Tenere: We use several percussion instruments in our songs. First there is the djembe, although this instrument is not unique to Tuareg musicians, it is used throughout West Africa. Other traditional percussion instruments that we use are the tendé (a small drum made from a mortar, often played by women) and the assaqalabo (a kind of water drum made from a calabash). We also play with a simple half-calabash.

Samantha Hollins: I just adore string instruments. What’s the history of traditional guitars that are in Niger? Do you incorporate them in your production or shows? 

Dag Tenere: The Tuareg have the imzad as a traditional string instrument. It’s not a guitar but rather a viola made of half calabash, a goat skin and a stick that serves as a neck to which a string of horse hair is attached. It is not unique to Niger but to the Tuareg in general. The imzad is generally played by women. There is also the tehardent, which is like a three-stringed lute played by griots. In our shows we have not integrated traditional string instruments. We play with guitars (electric and acoustic) and bass.

Photo courtesy of NOMADA Music 

Samantha Hollins: Becoming one with the earth while playing music is such a powerful feeling. I see that you rehearse outside. How does your atmosphere influence your music? 

Dag Tenere: In the city we don’t like to rehearse very much because it’s confusing and we don’t have the space or the necessary conditions. We often have to rent a rehearsal room, especially if we have a concert or a recording. But what we prefer is to rehearse “in the bush”, in the nature, on the sand and with a good tea next to it. That’s how we find inspiration and feel more comfortable playing.

Samantha Hollins: In February 2018 you had a concert in a tent during a camel race. What was that like? What does the energy of Niger’s audiences feel like? 

Dag Tenere: It was very cool. We went the day before to see the camels arrive, we slept under the stars and the next day we saw the camel race. We were very happy because the winner was our uncle who is a camel driver. Afterwards we were invited to play under a Tamasheq tent, it was a bit improvised but it was very good.

The Nigerien public has a very good energy in concert. They like Tuareg music, especially thanks to our brother Bombino, a great guitarist from Niger.

Photo courtesy of NOMADA Music 

Samantha Hollins: What is your music scene like? How does your band fit in? Do you ever tour? 

Dag Tenere: On stage we like to show ourselves as we are. We are all like a big family and we get along very well. Often, we play with other bands like Toumastine or TisDass. We are all brothers and we put out a good atmosphere. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to go on tour. In Niger there is almost no support for travel and the distances are very long. To go abroad you also need to have the means. Last year we were invited to participate in a festival in France, but because of the arrival of Covid our shows were cancelled. Let’s hope we can do a small tour soon.

Samantha Hollins: How important is the griot tradition in your music? 

Dag Tenere: The griot is a person highly respected by the Tuareg community. History is transmitted by the griots. He carries messages, he gives courage to men, he is the guardian of the oral, musical but also historical tradition. The griot is an untouchable person. One has the right to disturb or contradict him. He is the guardian of history.

Samantha Hollins: Although I don’t understand your language, I feel the vibration. When I hear your song,  “Animanghan”, the beautiful singing and instrumentation is so captivating. What is the story behind it? 

Dag Tenere: (Goumar) “Animanghan” is a song that speaks of times gone by. I composed it remembering my childhood with my family in Mali, when there was no war, when we could walk in the desert without problems, when there was peace and understanding between ethnic groups. It’s a song that speaks of nostalgia for the good times of the past.

(Ibrahim) The creative process often begins when I have a subject in mind that I want to talk about. We write songs to convey messages. Once I have the subject, I start to create the melody and then the lyrics come naturally. If we want to record a song, we can rent studios in Niamey. We don’t have the means to record outside. In 2018 we self-produced our first album (Timasniwen Tikmawen), recorded, mixed and mastered it in Niger. This year we will release our EP Iswat, recorded in Niamey but mixed and mastered in France (Studio Adjololo).

Samantha Hollins: I am a huge fan! I need to have your music in my hands. What’s does the future project for your band and where can we get recordings of your music? 

Dag Tenere: On 4 June this year we released our next work: an EP called “Iswat” composed of 6 tracks including 1 traditional song. We have worked hard in this album where we preferred not to use drums and use only traditional instruments for percussion. We are very happy with the result. Let’s hope that the public will like it too! The first single Tihoussay Tenere” became available April 23rd on all streaming platforms. You can also listen to our music in our bandcamp profile. Thanks a lot for the interview and for the interest in our band! We really appreciate it!

Thank you to NOMADA Music booking/management company for collaborating with me on conducting this phenomenal interview. Translation did not interrupt the awesome energy you exchanged throughout the whole process. I love the culture and your music!

Check out Dag Tenere’s album “Iswat” here and on all music platforms.


For more info go to: https://dagtenere.wixsite.com/info

Photo courtesy of NOMADA Music 

Edited by: Ronin Ali Hollins

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