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Jeiche Chighaly: The Life Of A Mauritanian Griot

Jeiche Chighaly shares the hectic life of a griot, storyteller, in Mauritania.


Okayafrica contributor M. Tinari works in Mauritania, producing local band Noura Mint Seymali and teaching at a recently opened conservatory in Nouakchott. Below, he writes about his travels with praise singer and wandering musician Jeiche Chighaly.

If you're a griot in Nouakchott, Mauritania, this September was a really busy month. The time after Ramadan is prime marriage season, meaning gigs every night. It's probably easier just to keep the tidinitt (lute) in the back of the miraculously maintained Mercedes you and everyone else drive so that when the calls come in you can high tail it over to the hyma (Moorish tent) where you're being beckoned and start crowd-pleasing.

Unfortunately, your teubeul (bowl drum) has a broken skin that takes a few days to fix so you'll have to track down the only teubeul rental lady's place. She's elderly and drives a hard bargain, so you'll be returning the drum at the end of the night (6-7am) or be docked for another day's charge. The guy throwing the wedding has asked you to hook up the PA system, so add that to your rounds and hope for a sound guy who going to be vigilant with crowd control, someone who’s not afraid to beat back frenzied dancers who threaten to kick out the cords running from the instruments out to an electric generator in the sand somewhere outside the tent.

You’re driving pretty damn fast now. The white boubous of you and your whole crew are flapping out the window like rooftop laundry. But you speed up because you're an old pro at navigating the sandy alleyways of Nouakchott's endless, urban desert sprawl. You know how to dodge children, sewage puddles, haphazardly parked vehicles, goats, and the occasional camel without even slowing down. The recent proliferation of police checkpoints shouldn't slow you down too much either, since after all you're carrying musical instruments in the car and have the right griot's last name. Many of them have heard of you and this guy who's pulling you over now, while his buddies stand around fingering their rifles, just realized you played his sister's wedding last week. You flash a killer smile.

This was how Jeiche Ould Chighaly rolled in my recent trip to Mauritania. Having worked with Jeiche in another band for the past year and a half, I joined the wedding entourage as conspicuous foreign apprenti — carrying instruments, lighting cigarettes for performing musicians, making change so party goers could make it rain in smaller ougiya amounts, and soaking in the music in its traditional frenzy. This was not the first time I’d gotten to hear Jeiche’s guitar stretch out under the wedding hyma, but he was clearly on his griot-hustle like never before, sounding better than ever efficiently firing up the dancers until the sandals and money started flying.

The musical structure of a Moorish or Beydane wedding is codified; there is a progression of 5 modes or bhor, each of which corresponds to the emotional weight of a life stage —childhood (innocence), young adulthood (virility), middle age (maturity), old age (wisdom), and elderliness (serenity). Each mode is further divided into black (legato) and white (staccato) denominations.  Once the music leaves a mode, it may not return back to it for the rest of the performance. The bride and groom make their entrance to the 3rd mode – lekhal, which corresponds to the life stage they are entering.  This September Jeiche ran through the modal life cycle every night with an ecstatic agility, he might've gotten the extra work-strength thinking about the baby that would be born to him and his wife in a few days.

The music of Jeiche Ould Chighaly is featured alongside various other all-stars of Beydane guitar on a rigorously curated compilation- Wallahi Le Zein!! - Wezin, Jakwar and Guitar Boogie from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania - recently put out on Latitude. Weighing in at 28 tracks, Wallahi Le Zein!! is absolutely required listening for anyone drawn to so-called “desert blues” artists from the Sahel like Tinariwen or Ali Farka Touré. Culled entirely from live performances, the release is one of the most raw documents of a famously overlooked music culture in Mauritania.

Matthew LaVoie, who assembled the compilation from his own field recordings, provides an equally engaging companion text that goes a long-way to orient the listener to what may otherwise sound like mayhem. Compilations of this sort are often filled with mysterious characters whose only lasting remnants are the unrecognizable names cluttering artists menus on iTunes. But LaVoie, who spent years living and studying music in Mauritania (with Jeiche among his teachers), carefully fits each character into the evolution of Beydane music through a colorful and personal narrative.

-M. Tinari

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Watch the Retro Music Video for Dyo's 'Go All the Way' Featuring Mr Eazi

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Mr Eazi teams up with budding Nigerian artist Dyo, for her latest single "Go All the Way."

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Join Us For an Everyday Afrique Party This Labor Day In NYC!

Featuring music by DJ Moma, DJ Tunez, Rich Knight, Boston Chery and DJ Buka.

Everyday People, OkayAfrica and Electrafrique are back with the best Labor Day weekend party around with Everyday Afrique.

Come hang with us for another installment of the party that brings out the New York City's finest.

This September 2 we're taking Everyday Afrique back to The Well in Brooklyn, where you can dance and drink the day & night away across the venue's outdoor and indoor spaces.

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INFLUENCED: Meet Sibu Mpanza—the YouTuber Who's Making a Killing from Just Having Fun

'I am the person I needed when and even before I started my YouTube channel,' the prolific YouTuber says.

OkayAfrica brings you the 2019 INFLUENCED Series. In the coming weeks, we'll be exploring the online communities being fostered by young South Africans who are doing more than just influencing. From make-up gurus and hair naturalistas to socially-conscious thought leaders, get ready to be influenced. Read the rest of the series here.

Years ago, Sibu Mpanza found himself experiencing two realities Black South African students are still battling with even today: crippling financial woes at university and debilitating depression.

An aspiring musician who ended up studying psychology instead at the University of Cape Town, Mpanza began skipping as many classes as he possibly could. He would spend copious amounts of time at a computer hidden away in the corner, passing the hours watching funny videos on YouTube. In fact, he says he spent so much time on YouTube that he was literally one of the very first people to view Beyoncé's epic "711" music video—something Mpanza recalls in stitches.

He was searching for something, although admittedly, he didn't quite know back then what it was exactly. It eventually got so bad that in his second year of university, he packed up his things, dropped out and moved to Johannesburg to see if he could become what he'd always imagined he could eventually be.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the name Sibu Mpanza is not only an undeniable success story but an entire brand.

Mpanza is a full-time YouTuber who has been able to capitalise on creating hilarious content about his life and pretty much anything that interests him. While he initially "blew up" because of a YouTube video he put out, a video which called out White students at the University of the Free State who were recorded beating up protesting Black students at a rugby game, he's since moved onto a second channel, More Mpanza, where he makes content that's a lot more fun, apolitical and doesn't take a toll on his mental health. As if two successful channels weren't enough, he's also got a third channel, Arcade, where he and his business partner talk about things they enjoy in the technology space.

For anyone looking to just let off some steam, watch a YouTuber who's willing to poke fun at himself or find some really quality content in an era where everyone seems to have a YouTube channel about something or the other, Mpanza is definitely your guy.

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