THE MEMBERS of the band Tal National collectively pierce and weave with the precision of an industrial sewing machine with a freshly sharpened needle. Performed with preternatural ease, their tightly braided patterns pulse with passionate life.
Tal National hail from Niger, a West African nation abutting the Sahara Desert, and a region that's musically known—along with Mali, Algeria, and others—for the currently in-vogue trend of "desert blues." The sound, now largely guitar-driven, is derived from the ngoni, a precursor to the banjo. In contrapuntal polyrhythms—in Tal National's case, usually a hyperactive 12/8—the guitars, bass, talking drum, and trap kit ricochet at full-tilt, a joyous, timeless, even borderless affirmation.
On their way to becoming one of the biggest bands in Niger, Tal National regularly traverse their nation, playing five-hour shows some five nights a week. As guitarist/bandleader Hamadal Issoufou Moumine (AKA Almeida) told KEXP in 2013, Tal National was the first band in Niger to sell over 10,000 CDs locally. The group's latest, Zoy Zoy, is their second international release, though they've been performing since 2000.
"Tal National is more like a sports team than a band," wrote the New York Times' Jon Pareles. "It's a pool of more than a dozen musicians who work in various seven-member combinations to play the band's all-night shows and constant tour dates."
Those combinations are purposefully gathered from across Niger's ethnic spectrum, and the songs are sung in numerous local languages. Within the album's mix of traditional and originals, the title track, "Zoy Zoy," speaks of a new mother's recent birth. "Sey Wata Gaya" addresses recent attempts of Islamic crackdown on secular music in the region.
Of what makes Tal National so popular in Niger, Moumine told KEXP: "Everybody can understand our music. Everybody can understand our language... It's very easy and very simple to sing Tal National songs."
And while the words may not translate to English as simply, the inclusive, celebratory, invigorating romps of Tal National resound blissfully loud and clear.