Early in the rainy season, much of the precipitation that comes to southern Niger falls in intense, if short-lived thunderstorms. Tal National, a band formed in Niger's capital city Niamey, has songs that gather and break in the same way. Take the sixth track on their new album Zoy Zoy, “Tenere.” You can feel that it's coming—there's something in the swirling guitars and the snare hits—when suddenly everything snaps into step with the drums and the band is off in a deluge of fleet-finger runs and thundering percussion.
It takes all of 15 seconds of the first track for Tal National to demonstrate that for all of their individual virtuosity, as band they move as one. The Tuareg-inflected lead guitar line that opens the song “Zoy Zoy” yields to the rhythm section, which shows up with a funk backbeat before the band melds the two. “Farila” has two roiling guitars that suddenly move into full-on major key that sounds more like Weather Report than a storm, but just for a few seconds.
Even though this is only their second record released internationally, following 2013's Kaani, Tal National are obviously seasoned performers, and even more gifted alchemists. As the “National” in their name implies, they draw membership and musical inspiration from Niger's Songhai, Fulani, Hausa and Tuareg populations, along with a healthy dose of the various styles of Congolese dance-pop that form a musical lingua franca for much the continent. They've been touring the country for a decade, playing five-hour sets nearly every night, which explains why they're so tight, and how they managed to tear the roof off of the Schimmel Center in New York last month while barely breaking a sweat.
tal national- hour and a half in, zero sweats broken. pic.twitter.com/f386n20XWc — Afropop Worldwide (@afropopww) April 3, 2015
Tal National is perhaps the most popular band out of Niger, and Zoy Zoy is a jubilant, occasionally severe, and always engaging release that goes a long way towards explaining why.