Ooleya mint Amartichitt, Three Cassettes

Ooleya mint Amartichitt has been one of Mauritania's most visible singers for the last thirty years, second only to the late Dimi mint Abba. And while many artists of her generation have started to withdraw into the shadows, Ooleya continues to hold center stage, still performing with the intensity and drive that made her reputation in the late 1980s.

Ooleya was born in 1967 in Aïn Varba, near the town of Aioun el Atrouss, the capital of the Hodh el Gharbi region, in southeastern Mauritania.  She was born to Dahi ould Amartichitt and El Kawtha mint Bowba Jiddou (her extended maternal family is reputed for their mastery of the tidinitt). Ooleya's formative musical influence was her paternal aunt Amash mint Amartichitt, a gifted singer with an explosive voice, and one of Radio Mauritania's early stars. (Amash was initiated into the musical arts by her mother, Ooleya's paternal grandmother, Lalla mint Ali Khadja--I have fantastic recordings of both Amash and Lalla mint Ali Khadja that I will share in the future.)

In late 1977, Dahi ould Amartichitt moved his family to Nouakchott, Mauritania's rapidly growing capital.  Ten years later, Ooleya started performing with her younger brother Deye, a guitar player with an immediately recognizable sound and style.  The Amartichitt siblings developed a louder and less meditative style than the musical reveries of Dimi mint Abba and her cousins Seddoum and Khalife ould Eide, the dominant style through the early 1980s. When Dimi moved to Morocco, in the early 1990s, to care for her ailing mother, Ooleya became Nouakchott's most in-demand singer.

Ooleya married the singer Bouyagui ould Nevrou in 1986 and a year later gave birth to their daughter Mneitou mint Nevrou--who has also become one of the best singers of her generation.  By the late 1990s, Deye was no longer performing and Ooleya was most often accompanied by another younger brother (el Amar ould Amartichitt), her younger sister Sadiqa, and her daughter Mneitou.  Today, Ooleya is usually accompanied by Limrabet Ngdhey, an impressive young guitar player with a ferocious style.

Perhaps because of the intensity of her style, quality recordings of Ooleya are hard to come by.  There are hundreds of recordings floating around, in which Ooleya's vocals are buried under layers of distorted percussion or saturated guitars.  Here are three cassettes that give a sense of Ooleya's art.

This first cassette features Ooleya performing solo, just her ardin and voice, for a small group of friends in Las Palmas, a favorite Mauritanian vacation spot in the Canary Islands.  This is not a high fidelity recording, but you can nonetheless appreciate Ooleya's vocal mastery.

 Download Ooleya mint Amartichitt - Las Palmas

This second cassette is an unusual recording, it features Ooleya enjoying an evening of Dhikr--Sufi devotional songs--with the singer Zeynab.  Ooleya doesn't sing for much of the A-side. She can be heard in the background, expressing her appreciation for Zeynab's heartfelt melodies.  At 11:15 on the B-side, Ooleya comes in with a wonderful performance. This short recording captures the essential elements of her style, the drama, the intensity, the yearning.  Her voice is the perfect counterpoint to Zeyneb's meditative melodies.  Ooleya gives another terrific performance at the 22-minute mark. This is also quintessential Ooleya, brooding and dramatic.

Download Ooleya mint Amartichitt & Zeynab - Dhikr

The third cassette is my favorite of the bunch.  This is a recording from 1997. Unfortunately, the first side is unlistenable, the boombox was placed to close to the percussion and the t'bal's low frequencies choke everything else.  I have tried to salvage one selection from the A-side, a blistering guitar wezin (a solo for dancers) performed by Deye.  He is one of my favorite Mauritanian guitar players: I have always loved his phrasing and attack.  I have been able to filter out some of the bass frequencies, but be forewarned, the sound quality is terrible.  The performance, however, is worth your time and patience. I have included the B side in its entirety.  This is a great recording of vintage Ooleya.  (The first piece does not feature Ooleya--I haven't yet identified the singer.)  This is the style that made Ooleya and Deye so popular in the early 1990s.

Download Ooleya mint Amartichitt & Deye ould Amartichitt - Sahrabi, 1997

There are a lot of videos of Ooleya youtube.  (This film shot by Mauritanian television is one I return to often.) This very short clip is probably from the early 1990s. Ooleya sings her heart out.



  1. thanks for sharing. very special recordings. not sure if my comments show anymore....but this is a fantastic youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnxsXGF-pGT6Ny0u6WLPkmQ/videos

    1. Thanks, for the link. I hadn't found that YouTube channel yet. He has put a lot of cassettes up on YouTube. Great stuff. I look forward to going through them. I am pleased to read that you enjoyed the Ooleya cassettes.
      best Matthew


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