From the first moment that a Wodaabe man danced across the screen of Werner Herzog’s film, Herdsmen of the Sun (1988), it was clear that these painted Saharan nomads had star quality and they had it in buckets; further exposure was only a matter of vhen. To be fair, Introducing Etran Finatawa (‘Stars of Tradition’) is about much more than good looks. The annual Festival in the Desert in Mali has whetted an international appetite for the polyphonic songs of the region, and Et ran Finatawa certainly deliver.
A debut from a 1o-strong group of Tuareg and Wodaabe male nomads, there’s much merit in its high-tempo, ear on the ear arrangements of traditional sounds. When electric guitars are used they become percussive tools for powering the winding rhythms of the chanting songs and ululations. Significantly, the traditions and languages of the Tuareg and Wodaabe are markedly different, but there’s a common currency in their nomadic lifestyles and this helps bridge any distinctions. Introducing Etran Finatawa is a delicately put together album and its helpful translations and sleeve notes enrich the experience of the music. There are healing songs, songs about cows escaping, camel paeans and songs to pretty women: ‘Your teeth shine like sugar when it is breaking,’ runs a lyric in ‘A Dunya’. It’s detail like this that charms.