Les Filles de Illighadad Credit: Alvaro Lopez

Fatour Seidi Ghali is surely not the first person to become enamored of an older sibling’s guitar. When she was about ten, her older brother, Ahmoudou Madassane (who currently plays rhythm guitar for Mdou Moctar), brought a guitar from Libya back to their home in Illighadad, Niger. Since Tuareg girls aren’t encouraged to pick up the instrument, she had to dodge disapproving parental eyes to give it a try, but she proved to be a natural. Chris Kirkley of the Sahel Sounds label sought her out in 2014 after seeing a video of her playing on YouTube. He subsequently released Les Filles de Illighadad, which consists of stunning open-air recordings that showcase two different sides of Tuareg music. (Tuaregs apply the word “Tamasheq” to themselves and their language, but it’s not as widely known in the West.) The album opens with Ghali and singer Alamnou Akrouni playing lilting, hypnotic songs; then on the flip, they’re joined by friends for a rowdy side-length performance of tende, a local style of communal chanting and drumming.
By 2019, when Les Filles de Illighadad made their first tour of the U.S., they had evolved from an informal, communal endeavor to a road-tested, professional quartet. On At Pioneer Works, recorded in Brooklyn during that tour, Ghali and Akrouni are joined by Amaria Hamadalher, who also produced the session, on percussion and electric guitar, and another of Ghali’s brothers, Abdoulaye Madassane, on rhythm guitar. The group’s Tuareg contemporaries—notably Mdou Moctar and Bombino—are prone to flashy guitar heroics, but Les Filles’ tart picking functions as the foundation of a rhythmic matrix that also includes ensemble vocals, handclaps, and loping patterns beat out on a calabash. When they want to turn up the intensity, they do so by pulling an element out of their insistent grooves. Unlike a traditional tende gathering, which happens at someone’s home with no division between partiers and performers, this performance occurred in front of an audience at a Brooklyn cultural center—but the album’s six tracks are up to the task of getting a bunch of non-desert dwellers up and dancing.   v