Multicultural Band Performs Theatrical Show


Aaron Cohen

al National, a band from Niger, gives an exuberant performance at the ’Sco. The group played an eclectic set of songs influenced by jazz, rock and West African music

Sam Rueckert, Staff Writer

On Monday night at the ’Sco, Tal National transformed a shy audence that would barely tap its feet into an enthusiastic crowd dancing to the group’s energetic sound. The six-member band from Niger that became well-known through its television presence is now on tour in the U.S. for the first time.

Throughout the night, the band showcased its culturally eclectic music. The guitarist explained that there are eight main ethnic groups in Niger, and most of those groups were represented in the band. The first song began with the guitarist playing a simple, bluesy riff, the rest of the band joining him in a composition that included a mixture of jazz, rock and West African music. The melody of the guitar riffs and its bass counterpart bore a sonic resemblance to jazz fusion; the instrumentation largely resembled a rock band, featuring guitar, bass, vocals and drum kit, and the guitarist sported a Fender Telecaster, a well-known American guitar brand. But the band certainly didn’t stick to this model, also including a percussionist who played a talking drum, a West African instrument with adjustable pitch, and a dancer who showcased traditional moves.

One remarkable aspect of Tal National’s performance was that its songs were structurally dynamic, separating them from many rock and jazz songs that follow a formulaic structure. While the pieces certainly contained recurring lyrics and motifs, they continuously developed and expanded on musical ideas presented previously. Additionally, the songs were open in form and allowed the band members’ freedom to let loose.

The drummer often played rapid 12/8 rhythms, giving the music a hypnotic feel. Some complex polyrhythms may have been unfamiliar to audience members who were more acquainted with Eurocentric music, however, the dancer’s performance served as a reference point for the audience so that they could feel the beat. As guitarist Hamadal Issoufou Moumine said in an interview in Seattle with radio station KEXP, “Anybody can understand our music, everyone can understand our language.”

Moumine, who has founded several other groups at home in Niger, balances a full-time job as a judge, as well as teaching theater and music at a local orphanage, with playing in Tal National. Whenever Moumine took a solo during the performance, he took his time and inserted himself into the moment, even stepping into the audience at one point. At another memorable moment, each band member put down their instrument, with the exception of the kit player, and danced. The guitarist prefaced one song by explaining that it was about the dry season in Niger and that through the song they wished to channel a rain spirit. The band hoped the audience would also feel the spirit. They completed the song by handing the dancer a cup of water because she had “fallen” due to drought.
The band energized the crowd by bobbing side to side in sync with the beat and cheering after solos. With the dancer inviting students onstage to join her in dance and the guitarist lifting his guitar in the air during a solo, Tal National successfully involved the audience in the performance.

The band concluded by joining the crowd at the bar, leaving only the drummer onstage to solo while the guitarist slowly removed the pieces of his kit. The drummer closed the performance with only a kick drum and a pair of sticks, leaving the audience entranced.