Musical Road to Womex 2021 – Al Bilali Soudan

Our Musical Road to Womex section couldn’t debut in a more appropriate way than featuring and presenting you to a one-of-a-kind ensemble passionately and reverently bringing forward their century-old music tradition and spreading it “from the edge of the Sahara desert” to the world. 

We are talking about the Malian group Al Bilali Soudan (“an old name for the city of Timbuktu”), who will enrich this year’s Womex Official Showcase Programme with a performance in Praça Dom João I.

Led by tehardent (n’goni) master Abellow Yattara, the band is a torch-bearer of the quintessentially Tuareg music style called tashigalt, which is indeed shaped on the continuous exchange between the three-stringed lute and the relentless rhythms performed by the calabash.

To know more about Al Bilali Soudan and introduce you to their entrancing sound, we thought that there was no better way to ask them to do the talking and compile a playlist of the music that has inspired them…


UPDATE: Unfortunately, because of visa issues, Al Bilali Soudan won’t be participating in flesh, lutes and calabash in this year’s WOMEX. But don’t despair, you can still enjoy their set thanks to the Womex Digital Programme following this LINK.

Can you briefly introduce your music to someone who will listen to it for the first time at Womex?

Before being known as Tehardent music or Takamba, this music has been performed from at least the 16th century by Tamasheq griots and blacksmiths (forgeron) in the Tamasheq camps to celebrate the end of harvest, welcome and encourage warriors back from the battle and to praise noble families. The griot, in a sitting position, would play the tehardent, also known as the kurbu by the Songhai people or more commonly ngoni. The music has gradually evolved through contact and cultural fusion with other ethnic groups. Al Bilali Soudan has a long family history as forgeron musicians in the Timbuktu region of Mali. Popular among the local population, their music continues to evolve while preserving their cultural heritage.

Who and what are your music influences and where does your sound come from?

Al Bilali Soudan’s main influences are Ahmoudou Ag Intalokete, who’s Abellow Yattara’s father and Agou Keina
Abellow Yattara’s uncle and a key member of the group Le Mali du Sable in the 60’s -80’s.

Then, Amano Ag Issa, the tehardent/n’goni musician and male singer of the group Tartit, Ali Farka ToureKhaira Arby, Fissa MaigaBassekou Kouyate, another remarkable n’goni player, which is a similar instrument to Al Bilali Soudan’s tehardant, but played in a different style. We can also mention the band Super Onze de Gao and Afel Bocoum.

While regarding the sound of the band, it comes from traditional instruments. We have amplified them and altered the sound quality.

As well as a Worldwide Music Expo, Womex is a good and proper global music fun fair. Is there anything you are looking forward to attending/enjoying during those five days?

This will be our first time performing there. We have not much experience there but hope to make a lasting impression to advance

This Womex edition will happen in Porto. Have you ever been there and is there anything you are looking forward to doing/visiting/eating or drinking in the Portuguese city?

We have never been to Portugal and are very eager to visit. Looking forward to tasting the food and listening to the music of Portugal.

It goes without saying that Covid-19, lockdowns and regulations have deeply affected the music world in the last 20 months. How do you think the “post-pandemic” music world is going to unfold and what will be the “new normal” in the world music scene?

Covid 19 was terrible everywhere. It was a worldwide block not only for music. People were afraid. They thought that it was the end of the world. But we hear that things are changing. We hope that in the future things will be different. Mali has been moderately affected. We have more people sick with malaria and other illnesses perhaps. Vaccines are difficult to obtain and when they are available can only be obtained in Bamako. 

Womex is a unique opportunity to share and showcase your music with new people and let them know about your upcoming projects. Can you reveal to us some of your plans for the future?

Our projects for the future are always our music. We hope to grow our fanbase. We hope WOMEX will help us to introduce ourselves to the wider world music community and broaden our touring opportunities.

Let’s say that you have to draft an invitation card for our readers to join you at Womex and enjoy your showcase. What would you write in it?

Al Bilali Soudan – European debut at WOMEX21 – brings traditional Timbuktu from the edge of the Sahara Desert with generations of Tuareg culture hypercharged with 21st century urgency to Porto Portugal on October 29 2021.