The Dimi mint Abba Archives Volume 1: Unreleased 1986 recording with Khalifa ould Eide

Khalifa ould Eide and Dimi mint Abba were the first Mauritanian musicians to make a professional studio recording.  Their 1990 release 'Moorish Music from Mauritania', recorded in the UK and released by World Circuit records, received rave reviews upon its release.  Dimi is the most talented Mauritanian artist of the last fifty years and a national icon, perhaps the only one the country has.  Khalifa ould Eide was a gifted singer whose music, along with his brother Seddoum's, galvanized the first generation of Mauritanians to move from their nomadic camps to the rapidly growing capital city of Nouakchott.

Khalifa was born in 1957 in N'Beika, a small camp 100 kms from the town of Tijikja, the capital of the Taganit region.  Both of his parents, his father Ali ould Eide and his mother Moule mint Hemed Vall, were iggawen, or griots, linked to the Kounta of the Taganit. Khalifa and his older brother Seddoum grew up in the traditional music of the beydane (the Hassania speaking arabo-berber tribes) but did not study the repertoire intensively with their father. Khalifa and Seddoum--who will be the subject of many future posts--were of the first generation of iggawen to adopt the guitar, as opposed to the tidinitt (the four string lute) as their primary instrument.  Both Khalifa and Seddoum will be forever musically linked to Dimi.  Together they created a new style of beydane music; a more intimate, drifting, melodic style.

They started to develop their sound in the late 1970s, at musical evenings at Sidaty ould Abba's house: Sidaty is Dimi's father, a tremendous singer, and one of the most important Mauritanian musicians of the 20th century (more on him in future posts as well).  [There is an often told sociological riddle that expresses Sidaty's importance to Mauritanian culture.  To the complicated question of how do you define a Moor, the simplest answer is 'everyone who identifies with the music of Sidaty'.]  Dimi, and her cousins Khalifa and Seddoum--Dimi's mother was the daughter of Ali ould Eide's brother Hammadi--would entertain the young poets who came by Sidaty's house late into the night, transforming spontaneously composed poetic verses into musical rapture.

In 1986, a particularly inspired musical evening was caught on tape, recorded direct to boombox.  Khalifa and Dimi were invited by Haimouda ould Mami, a young trader from the Oulad Bou Sbaa tribe, to perform at his house in Nouakchott.  Haimouda, unusually, requested that the entire evening's performance be devoted to Lebyadh and Lebtety, the last two of the five sequential modes that are the building blocks of beydane 'classical' music.  (Lebyadh and Lebteyt are the most wistful and yearning of the modes, the beydane equivalent of the Cape Verdian saudade.) 

Over the course of two sides of a 90 minute cassette Khalifa and Dimi create and maintain a spellbinding mood. Dimi's steady ardin (harp) ostinatos frame Khalifa's brooding guitar lines.  They take turns singing, listening encouragingly to each other.  This recording features some stellar performances from both Khalifa and Dimi.

Khalifa ould Eide & Dimi mint Abba, Lebyadh & Lebteyt, May 1986

On the A side of the cassette, listen to Dimi's performance starting at 21:40! When Khalifa takes over again at the 30 minute mark you can hear Dimi encouraging him, responding to his vocal lines with expressions of enthusiasm (at the 30:36 mark she says, 'that was dangerous').  On the B side, there is a terrific guitar and ardin groove at the 13 minute mark.  An hour into the performance Dimi starts to really throw it down, her performance starting at the 16:15 mark on side B and her final feature, starting at 36:30, are prime examples of how great Dimi was.

I have always found Khalifa and Dimi's World Circuit release somewhat dissapointing, too canned to really move me.  The intimacy and intensity of their music doesn't survive the artifice of the recording studio.  This is a different problem than the frequent 'tepid mix for non-African listeners' that has crippled so many recordings--think Youssou N'dour rolling back the sabar drums to make his mbalax less intimidating for non-Senegalese audiences.  Khalifa and Dimi, unlike Youssou N'Dour, are not Pop stars, they don't write hit songs, with melodic hooks and power choruses, they don't have radio singles, they don't put out albums, or perform in nightclubs.  Khalifa and Dimi are art musicians, akin to Hindustani or Persian classical musicians.  They are improvising musicians who feed off the intimacy of a shared musical moment, off the symbiosis between them and their audiences.  [I make the distinction between popular and art musicians in terms of the contexts of creation and performance as well as the form of the musical expression, I do not use the terms with any implied judgement or hierarchy of value].

The three protagonists of this deep musical evening held back in 1986 have passed away.  Khalifa died in Nouakchott, on December 22, 2001, after a long illness.  Dimi passed away ten years later, succombing to a heart attack in Rabat, Morocco on June 4, 2011.  Hamdi ould Mami died young.

I hope you enjoy this recording as much as I do.  There is a LOT more of Khalifa, Dimi, Seddoum, Sidaty to come.  These recordings aren't high fidelity, there are some squeaks and thumps, but the music more than cuts through.


  1. Many thanks for this one and all the others. Highly appreciated!

  2. Thank you so much indeed. I wish more Mauritanian music would be available in the West.

  3. Thank you so much for posting these recordings. Moorish Music from Mauritania, while disappointing for you, was my first introduction to music from this part of the world. When I discovered it in the early 90s on CD, I listened to it over and over again over many years. It opened my ears in so many ways. It's fantastic to be able to hear "new" recordings in a more natural setting. Thank you!

  4. Oh man, Dimi is so hard to find, this is so great thank you very much. And there's more to come? Bless you - Chris


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