Hailing from Mauritania, West Africa, singer-songwriter Noura Mint Seymali is more than just a musician. She was born into a prominent line of Moorish griot, and maintains the tradition of keeping an oral history through storytelling, poetry and song.
“Growing up in a family of iggawen (or griot) music was omnipresent,” Seymali said via email, through a translator. “Iggawen, or griot, is a class of musicians, historians and poets that go back for many generations in our culture. Music is the lifeblood of my culture and family, something truly inseparable from my life.”
Seymali’s father, Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, was a great influence. She said she always dreamed of following in his footsteps — to travel and expand Moorish music in new directions.
“I always knew it was my calling,” Seymali said. “Being around family, living and breathing music, it was never unclear to me that it would always be a big part of my life.”
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Seymali describes her sound as a mix of old and new.
“Our sound is a unique, raw, bold and hopefully transcendent reiteration of the Moorish griot tradition,” she said. “ ‘Tradi-moderne’ is a term often used in French, meaning traditional yet modern. It has everything to do with its roots and history and respects certain stylistic parameters, but tries to be relevant, fun and accessible, with a more contemporary outlook. Music is life.”
Seymali believes music connects the world together, even if we don’t always realize it.
“Perhaps a way to approach it is to say that music and culture in both countries are in fact very interconnected,” Seymali said. “American Blues traces its origins directly to West Africa. For this reason, the music of Mauritania may actually sound familiar and yet still foreign to American listeners based on this lineage and ongoing exchange.”
She does say, however, that music is presented differently here in the U.S. than in her homeland.
“In terms of performances, in Mauritania music is often experienced at social celebrations like weddings and ceremonies, versus in the West where it is mainly encountered in concert halls, clubs and festivals.”
Seymali and company have never been to the area before, but they are very excited for their visit.
“We’ve performed in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but never Millheim,” Seymali said. “We look forward to meeting a new audience there.”
Audiences are in for something new and different, Seymali said. She will perform material from her latest album, “Arbina,” which was listed on NPR’s top 50 albums of 2016.
“Expect the unexpected and come prepared to dance,” Seymali said.
Throughout her world travels, Seymali has met several first class musicians with whom she’d love to collaborate.
“We remain open to collaboration and have been fortunate to work with artists in the U.S. and elsewhere,” she said. “In the U.S. we’ve collaborated with Shabazz Palaces, 75 Dollar Bill and Jay Gandhi, an Indian classical flute player. In the U.K. and Europe I recently did a tour with Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians. In Africa I’ve sang with Dimi Mint Abba, Oumou Sangare, Baba Maal, Bassekou Kouyate and many more.”
Seymali is the only current touring artist from her country active in the U.S., and she said Millheim audiences might have a one-of-a-kind experience at the show.
“It is quite possible for someone living in the USA, that they may never again have an opportunity to see a live concert of music from Mauritania,” she said. “It will be an unforgettable performance and a mind blowing musical experience for those who don’t know what to expect.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Noura Mint Seymali
- When: 5 p.m. March 5
- Where: Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks, 100 W. Main St., Millheim
- Info: www.elkcreekcafe.com