Etran de l'air (NE)
The name Etran de L'Aïr translates to "the Stars of the Aïr," the mountainous region of Northern Niger. They are based in the town of Agadez, an urban center renowned for the electric guitar and the Western named "desert blues." In the Sahara, this electric guitar genre is intertwined with social function. It's a lucrative commerce, and gigging bands make their living in weddings, baptisms, and political events. Etran de L'Aïr is one of Agadez's longest playing groups on the circuit. Yet they are also a band that has remained on the fringes, stars of the Agadez working class.
The history of Agadez is a series of invasions and conquerers each leaving their mark on the town. Founded in the 14th century as a Tuareg city, it was later conquered by the Songhai Empire. Subsequently, Hausa culture worked its way North, and the city became an important crossroads of trans-Saharan trade. In the 19th century the city became part of the French colonial empire. This patchwork influence continues today, with Chinese made goods flooding the market, immigrants passing by on their trek North, and a massive US military base a stone's throw from town. Suffice to say, modern Agadez is a multi-cultural city.
Etran de L'Aïr play a style that captures the contemporary sound of Agadez, incorporating vastly different musics into their repertoire. While Tuareg guitar follows a predictable format, Etran breaks convention and throws a third guitar into the mix. The two lead guitars solo on top of one another, in constant dialogue, with a crashing response from the drum. There is a bubbly underwater warble that emerges from reverb and crackly amps. It's electric party music, surf rock, from a place that is all beach. They differentiate themselves from the other wedding bands: "We play our own folklore, not like the other artists in Agadez. Our music is based around traditional Takamba...and we listen to a lot of Malian music. Not Tinariwen, but musicians like Ali Farka Touré and Oumou Sangaré."
Etran de L'Aïr is not just a musical group, but a family collective. The group was formed in 1995. Agadez was much smaller then, few homes were electrified, and guitars were rare. "When we first started to play in weddings," Abindi explains "we only had one acoustic guitar, and for the percussion, we hit a calabash with a sandal." As new technology found its way to Agadez, they band adapted, amplifying the acoustic guitar with a transducer microphone, acquiring electric guitars, and finding a drum set. As the family grew, so did the band, integrating the younger siblings into the musical group.