The Moorish music of Mauritania has hardly been over-represented in the world music market. Although the situation improved slightly in the years since this album was released, there was a time when this Ocora project was the only stop on the bus line for listeners interested in sounds from this land. It is one of the many fine productions done by the Office de Radiodiffusion Television Francaise and it is a marvelous recording in which the stringed instruments have a rich, tactile sound and the vocalists are particularly intense, even by the standards of African and/or Islamic music. Downtrodden musicians throughout the world might be envious of the position of the professional musician in Mauritania, where they form an elite category or social caste known as "griots." Their music has been handed down from generation to generation as folk music is, but it is music with technical theories as complicated as any Western classical music. In fact, the music of the griots is indeed considered the classical music of this land, and if we are to believe the liner notes, there isn't a whole lot of interest in any other kinds of music. The instruments used on this album other than vocals, drums, and handclapping sounds are the four-stringed lute called a tidinit, and the ardin, an angular-framed harp with around ten strings, the number varying. As is typical with Islamic societies, there are definite rules for men and women: in this case, the man plays the tidinit and the woman plays the ardin. Wisely, the producers have focused on extended tracks featuring both soloists and ensembles rather than a bunch of chopped up little bits. Recording balance might be tilted a bit too heavily toward the drums, but this is a flaw some listeners may wind up enjoying. A great album, but it could have been more generous in playing time. This is somewhat made up for with 12 pages of liner notes, including beautiful portrait photography and quite a bit of information about griot musical theory and modes.
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AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne