Tal National are from Niamey, the capital city of Niger. They’ve had several #1 songs in their home country, are constantly featured on national TV – folks in Niger leave their TVs on and use them as boomboxes. Still, they sell their discs on the street, at roundabouts since there is no centralised distribution system in the country.
Niger is West Africa’s largest nation, and one of the world’s poorest. Resting between Mali and Nigeria, and not far from Ghana, it enjoys a greatly varied mix of cultures and ethnicities, all richly steeped in music. Therefore, it is no stranger to highlife, kora music, afrobeat, while giving the world ‘Tuareg Blues’ and its own brand of hip hop. Tal National bring something entirely new to the fore, and the population grow increasingly unified in their passion for it. Their popularity is phenomenal: their most recent CD pressing was meant to last for several weeks but was sold out in a day.
In their joyously hypnotic, highly unique contribution to West African guitar music, with its lightening fast rhythms and rotating cast of vocalists, the history of Niger as a cultural crossroads along ancient trade routes can be heard. Collected within the former French colony Songhai, Fulani, Hausa, and Tuareg populations can be found, all of whom are represented in Tal National’s members. Delivered with virtuous precision and unrelenting energy, the rolling 12/8 rhythms in the Hausa’s Fuji percussion, the pensive aridity of the Tuareg’s assouf or “blues,” and the exquisite “griot guitar” of Mali’s Songhai can all be heard in the band’s music.
The group is driven by the charismatic, forward-thinking band leader, Hamadal “Almeida” Moumine, who also teaches at the local SOS Children’s Village twice a week, serves as a judge in local courts, and had a successful soccer career before becoming Niger’s best-loved guitarist. He formed the band in 2000. Their first album Apokte was recorded their first album in 2006 and was well received at home. For the follow-up album, Tal National wanted a better recording quality but realised it was cheaper to fly an engineer with remote-recording capabilities to Niamey than for the band to travel to the nearest studio (in Nigeria or Ghana). Almeida therefore recruited Chicago-based recording engineer Jamie Carter, whom he met during the Chicago Calling arts festival. The result was 2008’s A-Na Waya, an album that became hugely successful in Niger. This album firmly established Tal National as the premier band of Niamey. The record stood out in the domestic market, for both for the integration of traditional instruments like the talking drum, as well as the quality of its sound. Sound quality of recordings is a big issue in Niger since it is impossible buy instruments here, there are no studios that can handle a live band, let alone engineers that can record a live band competently.
In January 2011 Almeida brought Carter back to Niamey record their third album. Kaani was captured over the span of two weeks at the run-down Studio Maibianigarba in Niamey. Despite the damaged state of most of the equipment, a layer of dust covering every surface and mosquitoes dwelling in every corner, the dilapidated facility was acoustically an ideal environment. Carter was able to set up the equipment he brought with him and capture the magic of the group, spending days with the doors of the control room wide open to provide ventilation, and to let the vibrancy of the city in. The band would record until 5pm, then get ready for their five-hour performance later that night.