Moorish music is organised around several modes arranged in a precise order. This musical system can take on a very elaborate shape amongst griots, while a simplified version is generally performed by non-griot musicians.
Moudou has built his musical system around five modes: Karr, Varhou, Lekhal, Lebyad and Lebtayt. Each one has its own sound colour, determined by the scale of the notes used and by certain specific phrasings.
Played long enough so that the minds of listeners are immersed in it, each mode installs a specific emotional climate. Musicians therefore chose one mode or another depending on the emotions they want to bring about in the audience.
“Karr is the mode of joy”, Moudou explains about the first mode, whose scale can be compared to the major scale, with a reinforcement of its pentatonic frame (the black keys on the piano) bringing about a feeling of openness and simplicity. “This mode is favourable to dance, praises and spiritual songs. It is also very useful for wedding songs.”
Then comes the Varhou mode whose scale brings to mind the Indonesian pelog scale. “Varhou is the mode of the fighting spirit, the mode of anger and pride. It is the most often used to lead dances, especially the very rhythmic ones. It is the mode used to sing the beit harb, the battle song to boost warriors.”
"Lekhal is the third Moorish musical mode. It is the mode of songs about nature, beauty and love.” It is commonly found further south, in Sahelian Africa, and Moudou often hears it when he listens to artists from Mali and countries nearby.
Entering into Lebyad, one leaves the light of the three first modes to attain a more introspective dimension of Moorish music. “The mode of sadness”, explains Moudou, “Lebyad is the key to the great inspiration of the chouerate: it is the paradise of the nomadic song.” Lebyad has a variant, Liyeen, which is used as a transition towards the fifth and last mode.
Like the preceding mode, Lebtayt is a pentatonic mode exhaling a deep atmosphere of nostalgia befitting Moorish singing. Its soothing sound colour allows the musician to bring the musical voyage to an end in a soft fashion, far from the exaltation of the first modes.
In order to render a sound colour close to the tidinit lute, Moudou has adapted his electric guitar, adding two frets which he notably uses to produce tremolos on the second and fourth notes of each string. These quartertone tremolos are softer than their semitone equivalents. Much used in the Varhou, Lebyad and Lebtayt modes, these quartertones nuance the musical texture, highlighting subdued tonal colours.
Several musical genres are featured on this album
Ouezn is a musical form in which the musician freely improvises in a chosen mode, to a lively rhythm — the word ouezn refers to rhythm. Moudou is particularly fond of this kind of “Saharian be-bop”, which is given pride of place on this album.
Benja songs are an old, urban folk repertoire. In Chinguetti, they are notably interpreted by women, at weddings, during the plaiting of the bride and the procession leading her to her future husband. The singers accompany themselves on the tenoua, a large drum kin to the Tuareg tindé.
Chouerate is the name given to a form of sung poetry performed by women in the camps and palm groves. To the accompaniment of the tbel kettledrum and handclapping, they declaim, in turn, verses of their own composition. The first verse gives the melody and the final rhyme, which must be followed in the next lines.
The tebra is a form of poetry in which women express very personal feelings, mostly about longing for one’s beloved. Although the tebra is originally a rather intimate, solo genre, Moudou and his singers like to turn it into a collective song performed in public, with or without the guitar.
In these improvisations for solo guitar, Moudou presents each of the five musical modes.