Malouma | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Mauritanian singer Malouma Mint Moktar Ould Meidah grew up in a family of griots and began taking music lessons at six, learning how to play the ardin, a kora-like harp; by the time she was fifteen other musicians were performing her original compositions. To allow her to broaden her musical knowledge, her father moved the family to Nouakchott, the nation's capital, and there she absorbed a wide range of Arabic music while also developing a love of Western classical music and the blues. The songs she wrote there adhered to traditional cyclical riffs and Arabic modes, but she also began to apply rock and funk rhythms and modern instruments like electric guitar to the hypnotic Mauritanian grooves. She also took chances with her lyrics: instead of singing the usual praise songs, she took on subjects like women's rights, reconciliation between blacks and Berbers, and romantic love--the last a taboo in her Islamic West African nation. This forthrightness got her banned from state-controlled media outlets and concert venues in the early 90s, though the restrictions began to loosen by the end of the decade. On her most recent album, Dunya (Marabi, 2004), she freely injects Western sounds into her music, sometimes in depressingly heavy-handed ways: rock guitar solos, banal synthesizer washes, and tinkling piano lines sound superimposed onto the tunes. Fortunately most of the album still crackles with Malouma's soaring melisma, elegant melodic filigree, and sophisticated phrasing. For better or worse, she performs with her Sahel Hawl Blues Band, members of which played on Dunya; this is her Chicago debut, and to the best of my knowledge the first performance by a Mauritanian musician here in at least a decade. Mon 4/11, 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Free. All ages.

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