Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan, le Dernier Maître

Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan is the last master iggawen (griot) of his generation, one of the last generations born in nomadic camps, into a rich and unique Saharan culture. Today, Sid Ahmed is 85 and lives in Nouakchott. He no longer performs but remains a Mauritanian cultural icon, revered for his knowledge of the traditional tidinitt repertoire.

Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan was born in 1935 in southeastern Mauritania, in the Hodh el Chargui region, in a nomadic camp between Kobenni and Djiguenni. Both his father, Sidi ould Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan ould Sid Ahmed ould Awlil, and his mother, mint alBan ould Bowba Jiddou, were iggiw, members of two of southeastern Mauritania's great musical families. [Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan's great grandfather Sid Ahmed ould Awlil was born into a chorfa family of the Tenwajiw tribe, a marabout tribe. In Moorish society, tribes are historically categorized as hassan, or warrior tribes, and zwaya, or marabout tribes, renown for their Islamic scholarship. Iggiw were traditionally tied to the 'tents' of hassan tribes. Sidi Ahmed ould Awlil was handicapped and his mother encouraged him to spend time with iggiw. Sid Ahmed became an accomplished musician and his three sons continued the tradition, starting three of southeast Mauritania's great musical lineages, the Ehel Nevrou, the Ehel Bowba Jiddou, and the Ehel Ahmed Zeidan. (Ehel can be roughly translated as the 'family of' or the 'descendants of'.)]

Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan, his wife Amash mint Seyid, and their daughter Mama

When his father died in 1938, Sid Ahmed was entrusted to his older brother Hama ould Ahmed Zeidan. Soon thereafter he started to study the Quran, memorizing the entire text within a few years. Sid Ahmed showed such aptitude for his religious studies that he was encouraged to start studying Islamic legal sciences. When he was sixteen, however, Sid Ahmed's religious studies were disrupted. Following a dispute with his sister, he fled his brother's tent and went to live with his maternal uncle Sid Ahmed ould Bowba Jiddou, who became his first tidinitt teacher. While his uncle taught him the rudiments of the instrument, Sid Ahmed considers Mohammed ould Dendenni his master. The Ehel Dendenni are reputed, throughout Mauritania, for their tidinitt playing and their knowledge of the large repertoire of shwar, melodic & poetic vignettes.

Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan & Ely Cheikh ould Nevrou

In 1966, Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan met Jeddou ould Saleck, who would have a big impact on his life. Jeddou ould Saleck was the son of an emir of the Oulad Bella, a hassan tribe from the Hodh (southeast Mauritania), a connoisseur of traditional music and a military officer.  According to several accounts, Jeddou ould Saleck was one of the masterminds of the July 10, 1978, coup d'état that drove Mokhtar ould Daddah from power.  In 1975, Mauritania joined with Morocco in the Saharan war against the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria. When Jeddou was sent to the front he brought Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan with him to entertain him, just as his forefathers went into battle a century earlier with their iggiw at their sides. Jeddou ould Saleck died in a car crash in 1980, but his memory lived on through the praise songs of Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan.

By the late 1990s, Sid Ahmed was one of Nouakchott's flag-bearers for the traditional tidinitt repertoire. Today, all his musical contemporaries have passed away, artists like Sid Ahmed Bekaye ould Awa, Mokhtar and Ahmedou ould Meyde, and, most recently, Sidaty ould Abba. More than these contemporaries, Sid Ahmed has documented his knowledge, recording cassettes, radio shows, and television programs of duruss, or lessons, during which he alternates performances with explanations of the musical and historical roots of his repertoire.

This first recording is a cassette of duruss. Sid Ahmed takes his time explaining each mode he plays and the origins of the different shwar, often telling a brief story about the historical associations of the melody or details about the composer.

Download Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan - Mushawash

In 2012, Sid Ahmed sat down for a Mauritanian television station and gave an almost two-hour masterclass in the traditional tidinitt repertoire. The entire program is available on YouTube, chopped into eight episodes. Here is the fourth episode, chosen relatively at random--I like the first melody he performs. (If you watch this episode you should see links to the entire series).

Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan's musical legacy has been continued by his descendants. First, by his sons Likbeid and Hemeidena ould Ahmed Zeidane. Likbeid has lived in Medina, Saudi Arabia, since the late 1990s, but maintains an active presence on Mauritanian YouTube and performs for the large Mauritanian community in the Gulf. Hemeidena ould Ahmed Zeidan passed away in September, 2015. This next cassette features Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan accompanied by Hemeidena. This is an unusual cassette in that it features Sid Ahmed on tidinitt and Hemeidena on electric guitar. It is one of the only cassettes of traditional tidinitt and electric guitar that I have heard. The sound quality is frustrating, but Sid Ahmed sings his heart out and there is some terrific interplay between father and son on tidinitt and guitar. This cassette is worth a little patience, there are some beautiful moments of intimate, passionate, late night music.

Download Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan and Hemeidena ould Ahmed Zeidan

Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan has been featured on two CDs. The first of these is a long out of print collection of field recordings of tidinitt players released in 1998 on the much lamented (at least by me) Club du Disque Arabe label. Here are the selections from the CD featuring Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan. I find these recordings sterile and a little dull, they certainly lack the passion and drive of the duo with Hemeidena.

Download Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidane - Musiques Traditionelles

In November 2005, Sid Ahmed was invited to perform in France. The concert was recorded and released on CD. I have listened to it once or twice. It doesn't do much for me.

One of my favorite Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan documents is this short feature, broadcast on Aljazeera. The segment starts with Sid Ahmed introducing the tidinitt, presenting beydane music and its historical context.  The images in this clip are low resolution, but starting at the 4:20 mark there is a lovely performance by Sid Ahmed and his family.

Today there is a young generation of Ahmed Zeidan's carrying on the family legacy. Foremost among them is the guitar player Sidi ould Ahmed Zeidan, son of Hemeidena. He was Dimi mint Abba's main guitar player from November 2002 until she passed away in 2011, and Dimi's daughter Veyrouze mint Seymali's guitar player until 2015. This short clip from Mauritanian television gives you an idea of his talent. [I am working on a post dedicated to Sidi.]

Sidi's cousin Mama mint Ahmed Zeidan, daughter of Likbeid, has a fantastic voice. This long program gives plenty of examples of her talent.

This post would not have been possible without the help of Siham mint Babana, Bamba ould Talebna, and Sidi ould Ahmed Zeidan. I have also drawn heavily on a 2016 interview that seems to have just vanished from the web. My apologies to the author, I didn't note their name.



  1. wow, many thanks for informations and passion!

  2. i am excited to hear this one. everything i have listened to from your blog
    opens new territory and my ears get larger ( in sound hearing at least---

  3. thanks as always! Minor note, when downloading Sid Ahmed ould Ahmed Zeidan and Hemeidena ould Ahmed Zeidan the folder calls it Sid Ahmed ould Zeidanand Ahmedne ould Zeidan. For filing on the hard drive just want to confirm the former is correct and not the latter. Thanks for all you have uploaded!

    1. Thanks Shooby for your interest. The correct name is Hemeidena ould Ahmed Zeidan.


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