Album Review: Awa Poulo – Poulo Warali [Awesome Tapes from Africa, 20th January 2017]

According to Njeddo Dewal, a Peulh folktale on the origins of the ethnic group, as told by Amadou Hampate Ba, the Peulh first lived in Heli and in Yoyo. In Heli and Yoyo, everything needed and beloved by humans was in abundance. Due to the bad conduct of these first Peulhs, Gueano – God – sent Njeddo Dewal, a mean-spirited sorceress, whose spells brought calamities that were so harsh that the first Peulhs fled Heli and Yoyo and spread themselves around. Only the purest of Peulhs, for example Bâ-Wâm’ndé and his wife, were not affected by Njeddo Dewal.

It would be wise to add the youthful songs of Awa Poulo’s Poulo Warali, a Malian Peulh, to that tale’s list of peulh purity; the minutes spent listening to them are moments spent closer to Yoyo and Heli.

With “Dimo Yaou Tata,” Poulo Warali begins with a phenomenal wind instrument playing, and what sounds like processional singing, until Awa Poul is given the spotlight. It is not the case, and instead we are being entranced with organic artifice, a rustic-sounding folk-pop, made from the willingness to both pursue tradition and human possibility. It is a song that engages us with the texture of its sounds but also with its rhythm; organized folk music, as the Waltz was organized Viennese folk music, that is listened to like the music of a traditional ball.

Djulau” is the album’s second song, with the same intended elegance as Poulo Warali’s first. Awa Poul’s singing is at times background singing, giving the song’s strings the spotlight instead, and at times in the foreground, majestically, but consistently impressive.

Poulo Warali”, “Sidy Modibo”, “Noumou Foli”: name the song and it follows a pretty strict structure. Poulo Warali has to be music that has been theorized. There is an art of repetition to these eight songs that brings a listener into new territory full of intentions and commitments. What’s a woman singing to Awa Poul’s home audience? What is male singing? What does string instrumentation mean to her audience? All questions that one wants to be answered as a fable, because of the songs heard; that there was once a little Peulh girl who ran about in life, until that came to an end and she committed herself to pursuing traditional art. “Mido Yirima”, the album’s most engaging and impressive song does repetition so well that one almost wades in its harmonies.

To the Peulh, in the very beginning of our world there was being: a void with neither a name nor a limit. This being gave itself two eyes; created night when it closed its eyes, and day when it opened them. Night was incarnated through the moon, Lewrou. Day was incarnated as Nâ’ngué, or the sun. The moon and the sun wed and had a child, Doumounna. It is that child that first spoke to time and asked it what it would like to be called. Time replied Gueano, or eternity. One would imagine that time well spent is what Gueano would want from those to whom he had given Heli and Yoyo, and time well spent is exactly what is accomplished when listening to Poulo Warali, far from Njeddo Dewal’s calamities.