From Impoverished Merchant to Globetrotting Troubador: Q&A With Nigerien Band Ezza Ahead of Apr 21 DDC Gig
Goumour “Adam” Omar’s dreams of rock stardom were even more distant those of most artsy youngsters. After all, he was bound by the traditions of his Nigerien Tuareg tribe, which demanded he follow in the footsteps of his forefathers.
“I’m from a family of blacksmiths and jewelers, not musicians. In my country, we have to follow our family’s way. So I made jewels,” the frontman of Ezza says, ahead of the Saharan band’s April 21 performance at DDC, about the early days that made his current musical career seem so unlikely.
Despite dutifully sticking to his family’s vocation like many Tuareg people – an ethnicity spread throughout Saharan nations like Niger, Mali, Algeria, and Libya – Goumour still found a way to incorporate his passion into that humbler work. During a trip to Toulouse in the southwest of France to sell his family’s wares, he would strum a guitar to draw passersby to his market stall.
Thanks to his sunny Saharan melodies and the desert grit of his rhythms, it didn’t take long for one patron to recognize Goumour’s true talent. Indeed, when would-be Ezza bassist Menad Moussaoui – an Algerian expat then wandering the market – heard Goumour’s playing he quickly invited the Nigerien jeweler to spend his spare time forming a new band together. After all, as a Algerian, Moussaoui had also been in contact with Tuareg nomads and was enticed by the opportunity to connect with a member of their people.
The pair found a unique spark in their musical chemistry – which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given their disparate backgrounds – and eventually recruited French local Stéphane Gratteau to form the trio Ezza. And while world music aficionados or snooty purists might dismiss Ezza’s setup in comparison to other bands who have carried on the tradition of aged Tuareg music solely with Saharan members – Malian critical darlings Tinariwen being a prime example – Goumour says he and his bandmates’ eclectic backgrounds are instead an asset.
“We introduced more grooves and rock elements in our music, and I thank my bandmates for that,” he says. “Although most of Tuareg bands are totally composed of Tuareg people, Menad and Stéphane bring their own musical background and ideas to the mix, which help me create a whole new Tuareg sound.”
And while Ezza has yet to attain Tinariwen’s level of critical acclaim – that more established band has, after all, gotten enthused reviews from popular outlets like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork – or their degree of industry heft – Tinariwen has recruited guests like TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe and New Orleanian jazz legends Dirty Dozen Brass Band –Goumour says the trio is still steadily building a loyal following with their unique approach. Their tours of small to midsize clubs and festivals in Europe, Africa, South America, Australia, and the Middle East have been warmly received by audiences.
“A lot of people come to us after shows, to tell us we made them feel like they were travelling through the desert. Some others said they didn’t know Tuareg music could be so groovy. And all of them asked us: ‘How can your sound have so much power when there’s only three of you onstage?’”
Goumour recalls Ezza’s 2015 gig at England’s Womad Festival as being particularly successful. “Hundreds of people came in front of the stage, at 6pm, despite the fact we were unknown to them because it was our first gig in the UK. That means our music targeted them immediately, so we’re very proud of that!”
Goumour hopes to equally impress audiences during Ezza’s eight city China tour. He says the show will draw equally from both their bare bones 2013 debut Abadaya and their more polished 2015 follow up Alkher. Despite the small but positive buzz those albums have garnered from fans and critics, and the ensuing globetrotting gigs, Goumour relatives and friends in Niger have only heard about the band’s promising progress without witnessing it first hand. That means, as excited as Goumour is to perform in Beijing this weekend, he’s even more eager for Ezza’s next tour.
“The Tuareg people like our music really much. Unfortunately, we didn’t performed any gigs yet in Niger or Mali but we plan in 2018,” he says, because of course: “Tuareg is my culture. Tuareg music is part of me.”
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