Music from Chad
Mounira Mitchala, Voice of the Sahel
Former RFI Découvertes winner releases second album
One of the few Chadian artists to be making a name for herself on the international scene, singer Mounira Mitchala has paved the way for the next step with Chili Houritki, five years after winning the RFI Découvertes music award.
RFI Musique: What would you say is the main difference between your first album and the new one, Chili Houritki?
Mounira Mitchala: I did Talou Lena on my own, without much experience. It was actually the first time. It was put together in Chad in 2006 then recorded in Angoulême in France in 2007, and we just played the same thing as we did on the demos. This time, I worked with Camel Zekri, a producer who plays the guitar and spent ten years at university – not like me, because I had no musical training at all. You can hear the difference in the rhythms and vocals, the tunefulness, and the way we play the instruments.
When you met for the first time, how did you make sure you were on the same wavelength?
A long time ago, the producer of the first album, Christian Mousset, told me about Camel Zekri and had me listen to some of the records he’d worked on, including one by the Mauritian, Malouma. In December 2008, Camel came to N’Djamena with the show La Voix du Sahel in which he was representing Algeria. So we got the chance to meet and sit talking round a table. I played him some new songs and some old ones, and I asked him for his opinion because he’s a great musician. He told me to keep going because I was still in the process of creating my own sound. Then I asked him if we could work together on a second album and he accepted. Since we’re both from the Sahel, it didn’t take us long to understand each other!
What appealed to you about Malouma’s album and inspired you to ask Zekri to produce your disk?
They’d kept the Mauritanian music, but opened out to a modern sound. You can feel the blues, and there’s a truly Mauritanian feel. And that’s exactly what I was after: keeping my originality and my Chadian rhythms, but moving towards others and not remaining typically traditional because the world moves on and so does music.
Do you remember the singers or groups that inspired your first musical awakening?
I was too young to really remember. But when I was with my parents in Germany, where my father studied linguistics, we used to watch black American music on TV in the evenings and I really liked it. I used to observe the way they sang and danced and imitate them. When people sent us music or rhythms from back home, or songs and stories that my parents recorded, I would listen to them too, and sometimes I’d mime playing them.
On the African side, which artist affected you first?
It’s a woman: Miram Makeba. I liked her voice and the way she dealt with subjects. She didn’t just sing for the sake of singing, she made her contribution to the development of her country, South Africa, and to political change. It was her way of building a new world, for her and her people.
Do you still hold a job in your country’s government?
Yes I do. You need two jobs to make ends meet. I attended a national school for administration and the judiciary, and I finished my studies in 2004. After that, I went back to music. I have a job as a supervisor at a documentation and legal research centre. When I have a concert I apply for leave of absence.
What did you learn from your experience with the African Divas project set up by the DJ Frédéric Galliano?
The positive sides of touring. They were my first performances outside Chad with three other women: the Guinean Hadja Kouyate, Tigist from Ethiopia, and Alima, a Senegalese. We got on really well. It gave me a chance to get moving on stage, which I found hard at first because I’m so shy. It’s my personality, and that’s why they call me the Gentle Panther. Panther, for Mitchala, and gentle because I’m calm. Or shy, perhaps, I don’t know – something in between the two.
What was your specific contribution compared to the other three African voices?
We were linked by the electronic music, but we didn’t dance in the same way! Everyone has their own traditions and you can feel the difference, even though it’s still African. There are rhythms that come together. My drummer in France is Congolese and when he plays rhythms from back home it sounds like rhythms from southern Chad. My percussionist, who comes from Burkina Faso, told me that years and years ago, Chadians came to his country. They stayed and became Burkinabe, but they kept their rhythms and their music. People have always mixed together; borders are a recent invention.
Mounira Mitchala Chili Houritki (Lusafrica) 2012
Playing live at the New Morning in Paris on 22 March 2012
Translation: Anne-Marie Harper