EVEN BEFORE EUROPEAN COLONIZERS drew arbitrary lines of demarcation, the Tuareg and Wodaabe peoples of West-Central Africa have ignored borders. For thousands of years, these nomadic ethnic groups have moved with the rain and sun.
“Tuareg have always used instruments; Wodaabe use more voices, polyphonic songs and hand clapping,” said Etran Finatawa manager and de facto translator Sandra van Edig.
On April 21 the group’s wanderings bring it to Iota in Arlington in support of “Desert Crossroads” (Riverboat Records/World Music Network), the sextet’s second album of beautiful African hybrid music. The band combines the bluesy guitars of the Tuareg and the plaintive vocal traditions of the Wodaabe, all underscored by clattering, chunky percussion.
Etran Finatawa is based out of Niamy, Niger, but the ensemble is constantly touring far and wide. This modern roaming, however, hasn’t sapped these musicians’ longings for their traditional nomadic lifestyles, and many of the lyrics on “Desert Crossroads” address the topic.
“It is not only longing for traditional lifestyle,” van Edig said. “More for a life without fear and danger; a life in peace without a daily struggle for food and water, and acknowledgment for their own identity.
“It is a modern nomadism, and it is good to go everywhere in the world — being able to meet people and to talk about culture and identity and the value of cultural diversity,” van Edig said, because Etran Finatawa feels it’s giving voice to the displaced Tuareg and Wodaabe.
“Of course, if times were better, they would prefer staying with their families. But as it is, they do this modern nomadism wholeheartedly and see it not only as a lifestyle but as a mission.”
» Iota, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; Mon., 8:30 p.m., $15; 703-522-8340. (Clarendon)
Photos courtesy Riverboat Records/World Music Network