CHAD: Chili Houritiki - Mounira Mitchala
Mitchala bridges the gap between North and Central Africa with this rather uplifting album...
Though one of the largest countries by size, ranking at number 20 on the list, Chad is a country that has a surprisingly limited music scene. Despite obviously having deep economic and social problems, which would in-turn make a lack of investment in culture and arts seem understandable, the reason for which so few artists seem to have broken the mould and gained attention internationally is partially due to conservative values that exist in the country. This conservatism and traditionalism, that makes it inherently impressive that Mitchala managed to jump over various barriers, not only as a female artist, but one who is critical of her shortcomings in her homeland. With over half of the population holding Muslim beliefs, perhaps informing the general sense that creative endeavours and expression of politics are not for women, it would nonetheless be a misunderstanding to believe that Chad is not home to an immensely diverse population.
“It is the fact that the country is at the confluence of North and Central African culture respectively that makes it a unique blend and that is overtly reflected in Mitchala’s music. ”
With over 200 distinct ethnic people groups and tribes Chad is a true melting pot. This is true of much of Central Africa and yet, in some respects, the nation has clear North African influences, for example, like much of North Africa its population speak mostly French and Arabic. It is the fact that the country is at the confluence of North and Central African culture respectively that makes it a unique blend and that is overtly reflected in Mitchala’s music. Were one not to know her nationality when listening to her sophomore album Chili Houritki, it would be incredibly difficult to place as even nations that border it to its east and west (Niger and Sudan respectively) have very distinct music cultures. It chaotically bounces between sounding like Congolese soukous at times to overtly North African music one might be more accustomed to hearing in countries like Tunisia, always keeping the listener hooked. To me, this demonstrates Mitchala’s success as an artists as she manages to be reflective of her homeland, whilst at the same time being lyrically iconoclastic and even playing around with the form by not just blending North and Central African sounds but also traditional rhythms with a more modern beat.
In terms of the songs on the album itself, whilst it all broadly fits into what would be labelled the afro-pop genre, there is within it a fair amount of variety. The album kicks off with Haguina an upbeat toe-tapper, with lovely guitar work before Hourra which implements nice use of backup vocals for the first time on the album whilst Mitchala herself soulfully sings with power and clarity. Her voice is indeed very malleable, and though she has the capacity to belt out a tune as she does later on Choukrane she equally sounds fantastic when she softens her voice, most notably on my favourite song Saboura. Beginning with a gorgeous kora sound, the track has a ballad-like quality and is wonderfully moving. The contrast between the two aforementioned tracks is a perfect example of why her nickname of ‘Gentle Panther’ suits her so well, as even though she has a soft and soothing touch, she has the ability to pounce and vocally attack a song at any given moment.
Yet it is not just her vocals that impress on this all-round enjoyable album, but so too the backing vocals. The title track, Independance [Chili Houritki], as well as Inane is made so catchy due to her wonderful backing singers. Her band perform a great function not only as backing singers but also through the use of percussion on this album, often coming in the form of hand-clapping such as in Al Salam Alena. Though the album is full of lively tunes, for me Mitchala is in her element when she caresses the ears of the listeners with a soft touch. A great example of this is Anina Nina which sounds like it is being sung from a mother to a child. The track is so wholesome and perhaps it feels that way amidst the backdrop of rather more upbeat tracks that feature traditional sounds of Africa like Tourabi. Whilst it is by no means my favourite album of all time, Mitchala’s record really kept me engaged throughout which is no mean feat. Her skill and ambition is self-evident, whilst the fact that she reflects her region so acutely is just a lovely bonus that makes me keen to discover other Chadian talent.