Niger, to the east of Mali, is best known for the desert blues of Etran Finatawa and Bombino, but the capital, Niamey, is also home to this inspired and furious guitar band. Led by Hamadal "Almeida" Moumine, who works as a teacher and a judge while still playing five-hour sets with his band most nights of the week, Tal National mix energy and precision with an engagingly hybrid style. There are echoes of a sped-up desert blues in songs such as Tchana, and there are reminders of the Fuji tradition of Nigeria, to the south, in some of the percussion.
Nigerian large ensemble Tal National spent the time leading up to their third (and first internationally distributed) album Kaani slowly becoming the biggest fish in their relatively small pond. Hailing from Niamey, the capital city of Niger, the guitar-driven group grew from playing nightly five-hour gigs (sometimes splitting their members up to play separate, subsequent gigs in different locales) and releasing ramshackle early recordings to flying in Chicago engineer Jamie Carter to get a more refined, but sufficiently electric sound for the album in a region where functioning recording studios or even instruments are almost impossible to find. Carter succeeded in capturing all the bright enthusiasm of Tal National's sound, upping the clarity of the recording without sacrificing any of the group's raw grit.
Over the last decade Mali has emerged as the undoubted powerhouse of modern African music, producing a dazzling array of artists now widely recognised as some of the leading names in world music. Less is heard of its eastern neighbour Niger, but that may be about to change with the release of Kaani, the third album by Tal National. It’s a brilliantly consistent and, at eight tracks, concise offering that perfectly captures their sound.
Tal National hails from the small west African nation of Niger, where the band is highly regarded and hugely popular; their first two albums were recorded for domestic release, with Kaani following suit in 2011. Now this album sees its way to an international release, and we’re all the luckier for it. This is a terrific record, energetic and dense, filled with virtuoso musicianship and heartfelt singing.
After firmly establishing themselves as Niger's premiere West African guitar band with breakout 2008 album A-Na Waya, Tal National return with Kaani. Drawing upon a rotating wheel of West African rhythms — from the get-on-your-feet tempos of Soukous to rock and blues — the album serves as a musical roadmap of the band's hometown of Niamey. Capturing the vitality of the city, Tal National frontman Hamadal "Almeida" Moumine's fingers dance over the strings of the guitar with a groove that plays a game of tag with your ears.
Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws have been indie-rock bandleaders for more than 20 years: Mr. Caws with Nada Surf, Ms. Hatfield under her own name. And they must be well aware of the paradox when they sing “Such a loner/Hardly bring anyone over,” to open the thoroughly collaborative album they made together as Minor Alps, “Get There” (Barsuk).
Tal National hails from Niger, home of Bombino and Etran Finatawa, but the chattering polyrhythms and call-and-response vocals of the sextet’s exhilarating Kaani are familiar from dozen of West African acts. What distinguishes the group’s first U.S. (and third overall) release are its jabbing, coiling guitars. Their counterpoint is sharp and insistent, primal and edgy, with a reliance on jittery 12/8 meter.