The struggle to keep traditional music alive in Niger

In a world increasingly dominated by rap and electronic music, the evocative rhythm of Niger’s traditional drummers struggles to find an audience. 

The drum, played by esteemed musician Oumarou Adamou, known as Maidouma, carries a message encoded in the beats, each representing a syllable in the local Hausa language. However, few today possess the ability to decipher this fading traditional music art.

Maidouma, dressed in his vibrant sky-blue boubou, embodies Niger’s rich musical heritage as he performs on stages around the world.

Yet, at home, he faces the daunting task of preserving his country’s musical treasures, housed in the state-owned Centre of Musical Training and Promotion (CFPM) in Niamey. This collection of precious percussion, string, and wind instruments narrowly escaped destruction during a 2011 fire at the national museum.

Adamou reveals, “Our traditional musical instruments are in danger of disappearing. The young people of today all want to play modern instruments like the guitar and drums.”

traditional music

As the advanced age of traditional instrument players threatens the survival of their knowledge, Niger is grappling with the challenge of preserving its cultural heritage. Unfortunately, a lack of financial resources exacerbates the protection and conservation efforts necessary in one of the world’s poorest nations.

Complicating matters further, the impatience of young musicians often leads them to compose music solely on computers, forsaking the prolonged apprenticeships and meager rewards associated with traditional music.

The rise of a strict interpretation of Islam, the lingering caste system that restricts instrument playing to certain classes, and a shifting cultural landscape contribute to the demise of Niger’s traditional musical legacy.

Unlike its neighbors, Mali and Nigeria, Niger has struggled to modernize and integrate traditional music with other global genres. Recognizing the urgency, artist and teacher Mahaman Sani Mati has been organizing workshops since 2018 to educate underprivileged youth about traditional instruments and their construction.

traditional music

For Aichata Adamou and other ambitious students at CFPM, the workshops offer hope. Tentatively strumming the gourimi, a beautiful string instrument, Aichata dreams of selling her creations and finding a place in the musical world.

With each passing generation, Niger’s musical heritage faces an uncertain future. The preservation of these ancient traditions rests not only on the shoulders of musicians but also on the wider society’s recognition of the value and importance of these ancestral values.

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