Sun-baked instrumental meditations played on local string and percussion instruments. Yearning vocals and songs that evoke the mystifying realities of everyday life. Recorded live and outdoors on Grande Comore island by acclaimed producer, Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, Ustad Saami, Zomba Prison Project).
The Comoro islands are known locally as the “islands of the moon.” “We are an island, but we’re not alone” provides a vivid opportunity to hear unvarnished, original songs from this region.
Volume #8 of Glitterbeat’s Hidden Musics series.
Producer Ian Brennan tells the story of how the album came together:
“It took us six flights to get to the tiny African island, well sequestered in the Indian Ocean and uninhabited by man until centuries after Christ. It is a nation with no army, only police. A place where women don thick mud-masks for sunblock.
Instead of sustenance farming, here there are canoe boat sustenance fishermen. That they haul in lobster for their families to take the edge off of discontent and poverty versus the desperation we have seen elsewhere such as in Malawi where some are forced to resort to eating mice.
There is a trash-filled beach meters past the Presidential Palace, abutting its walls. The island’s tone is so laid-back that we did a three-point turn in his driveway, without incident, and barely detecting notice.
Shortly after arriving, we inquired about the ndzumara (a double-reed pipe, or primitive oboe), and were sadly informed, “He died.” The last living player had just passed, the sound of the instrument ostensibly lost forever with him. We were left to only imagine its resonance.
When searching for music, often the stronger artist is hidden behind another, more famous, but lesser one.
In this case, a slick and successful man named Hassain led us to another non-musician named Hassain who connected us with a musician who was quite good and he ultimately introduced us to his friend and mentor, and that person, Soubi (and his partner, Mmadi) turned out, at last, to be the real deal.
The few roads are lined with cars stripped of all but the body— car carcasses reclaimed by plant life. There are as many abandoned vehicles as those in use. With nowhere else to go, we opted for the partial shelter that one of these auto’s shells provided from the coastal winds. It was a case of inverting the “listen to a final mix in your car” to provide a real-life reference point, to instead simply starting the entire process there.
As so frequently occurs, the artist reserved his most melodically compelling song until the end— after we were broken down and leaving, on his way out, when at his most free. I’d defied one of my cardinal rules— never pack-up the equipment until you’re absolutely certain that the music is finished.
I was left little choice but to stand in the rain holding a handheld backup, stereo device and try to capture this beautiful moment as we both grew drenched. Counterintuitively, being in the rain provided superior sonics to being sheltered, but unfortunately, the moisture killed the machine and what was a resplendent take, was lost forever— witnessed only by me and a neighbor who stood bemused and finishing a cigarette in his doorway.”