Hamadal Issoufou Moumine (also known as Almeida), the leader of the Nigerien band, Tal National, begins his concert at Artisphere, a venue outside of Washington D.C., by asking the audience if they know where Niger is. There’s a cacophonous mess of unintelligible shouts, to which he listens patiently, before telling the crowd that the country is in West Africa. He continues educating the audience throughout the evening. Between two energetic songs, the dance floor is packed and sweaty, and he asks if anyone knows how many ethnic groups are based in Niger. No one does.
In Niger, Tal National are already well established and loved for their music. But Almeida says that through their songs, they also want to make the country familiar to the world, as warm and peaceful place. “We want people to know Niger,” he explains in French. Despite the dynamic cultural history of the country, and its current line-up of talented artists, international media tends to focus on the country’s devastating rates of poverty and child mortality. Ongoing analysis speculates on the possibility that the country will become “the next Mali.”
The music is bright; electric guitars, vocals and drums layer dynamically on top of each other. The songs, Almeida explains, are in national Nigerien languages and about topics to which everyone can relate: love, peace, and the beauty of women. At the base of Tal National’s music are traditional Nigerien songs, adapted to the instrumental line-up of the band. Almeida cites the musical traditions of Chad, Senegal, Guinea, and Arab and Latin countries as other influences.
That isn’t to say that Tal National hasn’t faced major challenges in their 13-year history. Niger has no music shops which sell electric instruments; the musicians had to rely on people traveling abroad to procure guitars. Due to the lack of recording resources in Niamey, several years ago Almeida turned to Chicago to find a music producer to record and widely distribute their songs. They found and flew out producer Jamie Carter, who continues to work with the band today.