In Mauritania, a mesmerising musical world blends tradition and innovation


Image of the artist Mönza, taken from his song “Ça suffit” (“That's enough”). Screenshot from the video on the artist's YouTube channel.

In the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, musical production is closely tied to the griots who jealously guard their art. Despite this conservative stance, artists venturing into different musical genres and fusing diverse rhythms are enriching the country's musical landscape.

Home to more than 4.9 million people and nestled between the Sahara Desert and the Atlantic Ocean, Mauritania boasts a rich cultural heritage. Demographically, around 20 ethnic groups inhabit the country, divided into three main categories: the Haratin, also known as the Black Moors (40 percent of the population); the Beidane or the White Moors (30 percent); and the Black Africans (30 percent), including the Fula, Soninke, Wolof, and Bambara.

Old musical traditions

Like all African cultures, Mauritanian music is performed using traditional instruments, often handcrafted from local materials. The most iconic instruments include the ardin (a harp-lute), the tidinit (a three-stringed lute), the tbal (a tambourine), and the tar (a frame drum).

The history of the country's traditional music is notably marked by the Azawan, a musical mode unique to the Moors. Its secrets are held by the Iggawins, a caste of musicians who have the monopoly of traditional music in the country.

This video of a Moorish song by Khalifa Ould Eide and Dimi Mint Abba is a prime example:

In an article on the Music in Africa website dedicated to Mauritanian traditional music, Bernard Bangoura explains the socio-cultural context of this musical genre:

La production authentique de la musique traditionnelle maure est à relier à divers contextes comme, la cour et son espace politique (musiques guerrières, d’histoire et d’éloge) ; le cadre populaire et profane (musique de danse des hommes, gesticulant avec des bâtons ou sabres comme armes ; musiques de divertissement, d’agrément ou encore exclusives aux femmes, comme le bandjé à chœur homophonique) et à la religion (musique de psalmodie et d’éloge dans les mosquées et en prélude de concerts).

The authentic production of traditional Moorish music is linked to various contexts such as the court and its political sphere (warrior music, historical and praise songs); the popular and secular setting (men's dance music, featuring gestures with sticks or swords as weapons; entertainment and leisure music, or music exclusively for women, like the bandjé with homophonic chorus); and religion (psalmody and praise music in mosques and as a prelude to concerts).

In the same article, Bangoura believes that this musical expression is not closed in on itself:

Les Maures et leur culture musicale sont grandement associés à l’expression de la musique traditionnelle mauritanienne. Cependant, ce patrimoine national accorde une place au résultat du brassage ethnique et historique, avec les populations subsahariennes.

The Moors and their musical culture are closely linked to the expression of traditional Mauritanian music. However, this national heritage also includes the influences of ethnic and historical mingling with sub-Saharan communities.

Likewise, the talented Dimi Mint Abba (born in 1958), nicknamed the “diva of the desert,” hails from a family of Iggawin. She has distinguished herself through her skill with the ardin and her powerful voice, inheriting her talent from her father, the author of the country's former anthem, and her skills on the ardin from her mother Mounina Mint Eida. In 1976, at the age of 18, she won a national award and went on to represent her country at festivals across Africa and beyond.

Towards a more modern and global music

In many ways, Mauritanian music has succumbed to the influences of globalization. Today, it incorporates influences and genres from around the world: jazz, blues, rock, electronic music, and rap. These musical styles have inspired artists like Malouma, Daby Touré, and Noura Mint Seymali, who present an image of Mauritanian music that balances tradition and modernity on the international stage.

Rap music quickly gained entry into the Mauritanian music scene in the 1990s, with artists like Diam Min Tekky, Waraba, Minen Tey, Ewlade Leblad, Adviser, and Mönza, also known as Président 2la Rue Publik, coming to prominence. The early 2000s saw a surge in popularity with several notable events, including the release of rap albums and subsequent concerts.

In this song, Diam Min Tekky demands justice for the survivors ad widows and orphans of the 28 soldiers who were hanged during the Inal massacre in 1990:

Further reading: The untold tragedy of 28 Mauritanian soldiers executed on Independence Day

Artist Mönza is also the founder of the Assalamalekoum Festival in Nouakchott, which held its 15th edition in 2022. Known for his outspoken criticism of the authorities, his music often faces censorship.

Here is a vidéo of the song MNSR LPRSDNT, Mönza released in 2019:


In the country, music also carries messages of social commitment. For instance, in his songAl gamra leila,” Kader Tarhanine raises awareness among young Mauritanians about the dangers of emigrating to Europe.

Music is increasingly shaping the country's image abroad. Besides the Assalamalekoum Festival in Nouakchott, another event briefly emerged in 2004: the Festival International des Musiques Nomades (International Festival of Nomad Music). Additionally, the Sahel Jazz Plus Festival in Nouakchott, initiated by the International Conservatory of Music and Arts of Nouakchott (CIMAN), held its first edition in 2015. The Culture Métisse Festival, now in its 11th edition in 2023, also promotes musical exchange between Mauritanian communities and those of the region.

Mauritanian music continues to captivate listeners around the world, offering a sensory musical journey through the landscapes and traditions of this African country situated between the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa. A Spotify playlist of Mauritanian music is available here.

Other playlists featuring music from around the world are also available and can be accessed through the Global Voices Spotify account.

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