The Dimi mint Abba Archives Volume 2: Unreleased recording from the late 1990s ; Rissala

This second post of unreleased Dimi mint Abba features a cassette probably recorded in the late 1990s.  Here is Dimi and her 'psychedelic' band at their peak.  In contrast to the meditative flow of the 1986 Khalifa ould Eide and Dimi recording featured earlier, this band has an ecstatic drive.  This is electric music.

This recording features the core of Dimi's great 1995-2003 band, her daughter Veyrouz mint Hemed Vall (seated to the left of Dimi) on ardin and backing vocals, Mohammed ould Seymali on keyboards, and Luleide ould Dendenni on guitar.  Dimi was one of the only Mauritanian artists who was able to keep a band together.  Most singers perform with their spouses or other family members, drawing on their network of cousins whenever they need a guitar player or backing vocalist.  Dimi, both because of her extraordinary talent and the high demand for her performances, was able to hold on to the best guitar players for many years--her last guitar player Sidi ould Ahmed Zeidane is perhaps even more talented than Luleide.

Veyrouz mint Hemed Vall's father was Seymali ould Hemed Vall, a master of the traditional repertoire and the first, and still one of the only, Mauritanian musicians to study at a music conservatory.  Seymali spent several years studying classical Arabic music in Baghdad, Iraq.  Veyrouz started singing with her mother at the age of six years and accompanied her mother for over twenty years.  It is only since Dimi's passing in 2011 that she has actively started to promote herself as a headliner, perhaps inspired by the success of her half-sister Nora mint Seymali (who also started her career singing behind Dimi).  Veyrouz has recently recorded a few demo tracks for an upcoming album: the production could be improved but there are some great musical ideas.

Mohammed ould Seymali is another of Seymali ould Hemed Vall's children; he and Nora have the same mother.  Mohammed inherited his father's musical curiosity and innovative spirit.  In the mid-1990s, he was part of a group that tried to create a new style of Mauritanian music, an arabo-pop that respected the modes of traditional beydane music but integrated ideas from Michael Jackson, Algerian Rai and Saudi contemporary music.  Mohammed fronted the band, playing the bass and singing.  The band performed a few concerts at the national theatre and kept at it for a few years but they were ahead of their time, or rather 'out' of their time.  Starting in the mid-1990s, Mohammed performed almost exclusively with Dimi, only occasionally accompanying singers from his family.

Luleide ould Dendenni is a key figure in modern Mauritanian music.  A musician friend of mine explained his talent to me this way, 'The previous generation of guitar players were like typewriters, and then Luleide came along.  He is like a computer, all the others became obselete'.  Luleide is one of the few guitar players of his generation to have learned the traditional tidinit repertoire: this is not just learning to play the lute, but mastering the extensive repertoire of melodies, the chwar; each melody evoking a time, a place, and often a poem, the shahid, or witness. Luleide was also the first guitar player to reconfigure his instrument, creating a microtonal fretboard and adding onboard effects.  (For a more detailed bio of Luleide see the liner notes to Wallahi le Zein!!)

There are three kinds of recordings of Mauritanian music that circulate on cassette; recordings of weddings, recordings of nadwiya (literally translated as 'invitation') which are musical evenings performed for an intimate audience, and dubs of recordings from the national radio archives.  The wedding recordings can often have the most intense performances but they are mostly poorly recorded, cacophonic, with the moments of musical intensity bookended by lackluster playing and distracted singing.  The radio dubs are mostly of older 'pre-electric' artists, featuring the traditional repertoire.

My favorite recordings are the cassettes made for the patrons of intimate musical evenings--have you seen Satyajit Ray's film Jalsaghar (the Music Room)?  For these recordings the musicians can pace the musical event.  They are not just reacting to the energy of the crowd, to the dancers, as they do in weddings.  For nadwiya the musicians can focus and concentrate on their performances.  Whenever a patron invites a group into her home she has the right to record the event, and in the days of the cassette recording she would specify  whether she wanted a 60 or 90 performance (these were the standards lengths of cassettes).  The performance would last as long as the cassette--the B-sides of most cassettes cut out before the end of the last song.  The evening's patron also had the right to give the cassette a title.  And at the beginning of the performance the artist would announce the date, the title of the cassette, often the name of the patron, and add some form of blessing such as, 'may God make this cassette great'.  

This late 1990s recording is a nadwiya.  The recording featured in the previous Dimi post was a boombox recording of the ambient room-sound, the internal microphone of the boombox capturing the sound.  This recording was made by running the signal from the output of a mixing board to a cassette recorder.  Dimi's electric band needed a sound system, the guitar and keyboards would run straight into the board and Dimi and Veyrouz would have microphones.  Unfortunately Dimi is off microphone during her introduction.  I have manipulated the audio file with every filter I have and I still can't hear what she is saying.  My best guess is that this recording was made in the late 1990s.  The cassette is called Rissala, which means letter.

Dimi mint Abba - Rissala (FLAC)
Dimi mint Abba - Rissala (320) 

The cassette opens with 'El Shams w'al Qamar', a religious praise song that opens many performances.  Dimi sings, 'The sun, the moon, and the stars, the slate and the quill.  You must take your time when composing verses praising the prophet.  Don't fool yourself, there is only one path to eternal paradise.  Praise the prophet through your poetry'.  At the 23 minute mark on the A side there is a short but very nice Luleide wezin, or instrumental.  His brief solo turn seems to wake him up and his playing is fantastic under Dimi for the rest of the side.  (I think this recording is more representative of Luleide's playing than the tracks that featured on the Wallahi le Zein compilation.)

The A side ends and the B-side begins with the song 'Coumba Beye Beye', a song that was very popular in the late 1990s.  (I am still researching the history of this song, do you know anything about it?  Can you help?)  The second track on the B-side also features some great Luleide and Mohammed ould Seymali counterpoint. At the 19 minute mark one of the musicians seems to have a loose connection but the sound engineer soon gets it under control.
I have posted both FLAC and mp3 files.  I honestly can't hear if the uncompressed recording sounds any better.  The original source file is so noisy that I am not sure there is an audible improvement in FLAC.  Please let me know if you have an opinion on the matter, or suggestions.  Enjoy!!



  1. Fascinating post, Matt. Thanks!

  2. Thank you! Can't wait to check out.

  3. Amazing stuff! I'm happy to have discovered you today courtesy of Holland Tunnel Dive, another recent discovery. Appearances by Dimi mint Abba are always rare and extraordinary and to be treasured. I have been proud to keep collections of 45s from Docteur Nico, Bembeya Jazz, Balla et ses Balladins etc. available over these past years at as the world has become a more fearsome place. I would like very much to be listed in your River Deep And Wide, if you see fit. Thanks for your efforts in bringing such rare beauty to the public consciousness.

    1. holland tunnel drive looks fine indeed,althogh icannot find any links. This Matthews blog is really wonderfull and Dimi Mint Abba i met in a Hilversum Studio in Holland. She was a rally nice woman with quite a voice...


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