In July of 1999, I took bush taxis from Senegal to Mauritania. I left the Colobane garage in Dakar at 7am and was at the border a few hours later. By early afternoon, I was in the back seat of a sweltering Peugeot, watching the dunes drift by, and the heat shimmer off the asphalt, on the road from Rosso to Nouakchott. It was so hot in the car that the driver rocked back and forth, left to right, non-stop, to keep himself awake. An hour into the dunes, the taxi was stopped by a uniformed officer sitting at the side of the road, in the shade of a tent.
The officer was a courteous young man in his thirties. He seemed bored and lonely. When the officer saw me in the back seat he asked for my identification and to see my bags. He opened my pack and rummaged around, disinterested until he found a box of cassettes. I had a dozen Maxell XLII's that I intended to use with my Sony Professional Walkman to record musical performances. The officer asked me to give him a cassette. I explained that I desperately needed them. He didn't insist but asked that, instead, on my return trip, I bring him a cassette of Khalife ould Eide singing the poems of Abd al-Rahim Bura'i.
Two months later, I left Nouakchott and headed back towards the border in a bush taxi with a cassette of Khalife ould Eide singing the poems of Abd al-Rahim Bura'i in my pocket, dubbed onto one of my Maxell XLIIs. The taxi was stopped by another officer sitting under the same tent. I asked after his colleague. He had been transferred to Nouakchott. I kept the cassette and it has become one of my favorite recordings of Khalife ould Eide, the Mauritanian artist I listen to most.
'Abd al-Rahim bin Ahmad al Muhajiri al-Bura'i was a 14th century (died 1401) poet from the south Arabian peninsula. He was born in a village in the Bura district of al-Hudaydah governorate, on the west coast of present-day Yemen. He studied jurisprudence and grammar, was a member of the Qadriya Sufi order, and made the pilgrimage to Mecca several times. Little else is known of his life. Al-Bura'i was a master of muwashshah, a style of symmetrically rhyming classical Arabic poetry, designed for singing. Most of his poems praise the prophet Muhammed. A collection of his verse, entitled Diwan, was first published in Cairo in 1866. Sidaty ould Abba was the first Mauritanian artist to sing al-Bura'i's poems, most likely using the 1967 Cairo reedition of Diwan.
After Sidaty--his father-in-law for a few years--Khalife is the Mauritanian singer most associated with the poems of Bura'i. I don't know when this cassette was recorded, my best guess is the early 1990s. Khalife plays acoustic guitar and is accompanied by Dimi on the ardin; she doesn't sing but you can hear her encouraging Khalife. I have been told that Khalife often performed the poetry of Bura'i reading from an open book. On some recordings you can hear him stumble over words, as he loses his place in the text. There is no hesitation in this performance, Khalife is focused and committed.
This post is dedicated to Idoumou ould Jeich in memory of our many late nights spent driving around a sleeping Nouakchott in a state of drowsy bliss, listening to Khalife.