Because Purple Rain lives in my head rent-free, I literally gasped when I came across this image in our event listings. Turns out it’s from something even more strange and wonderful than Prince’s 1984 movie: a 2015 homage to it called Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (“Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red In It”). Shot on location in Agadez, Niger, the film follows a Tuareg guitarist — inspired and played by the legendary Mdou Moctar — on an “against all odds” journey to better his life through music. Even cooler, if that’s possible, is what’s running alongside Akounak in a most unusual doubleheader at the Admiral Twin: a docu-realist desert fantasy called Zerzura, billed as “the first ever Saharan acid Western.” (See the Zerzura trailer here.)
Consider us intrigued. If you’ve got any itch for the magical, the cross-cultural, the wondrous — and especially if you’re a music fan — then you’ll want to jump on the Oklahoma premiere of these two films this week. They’re the first-ever features in the Tuareg language, co-produced by Portland-based Sahel Sounds and Niger’s fledgling Imouhar Studio, and together they make for a visually stunning, heart-expanding trip to distant yet familiar lands, packed with epic band rivalries, djinns and gold-hunters, and some of the world’s most mind-blowing music. (If you’ve heard the band Tinariwen, you know this style: a sometimes blistering, sometimes blissful seismic jangle known as “desert blues.”)
The Tulsa showing comes via two top-notch local guides to experimental music, Tulsa Noise and Foxy Digitalis (proprietors: Nathan Young and Brad Rose, respectively). They’ve been bridging Tulsa to other worlds for decades as producers, writers, composers and champions of music that plays on the edges of the conventional. We asked them about this double feature and their efforts to bring “out there” music a little closer “in here.”
Root: How did Foxy Digitalis and Tulsa Noise connect on bringing these films to Tulsa, and what was it about them that made you think "Tulsa's absolutely gotta see these"?
BR: Nathan and I have been friends and collaborators for over 15 years now and have been discussing a lot of possible projects over the last year that could be adapted to the current circumstances with the pandemic. Admiral Twin seemed like an obvious choice. With these two films in particular, we’ve both been huge fans and supporters of the Sahel Sounds label that produced them for years. The work Sahel is doing to promote and support music and art in Africa is incredible and we want to show Tulsa that it’s happening and hopefully help generate more interest in this music locally.
NY: I was just really super moved by them. They’re just great movies. You can see that this music community is a big part of the everyday life of the people there in Agadez. The Purple Rain one hooked me at first; Zerzura is very similar to Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain. And the Admiral Twin is a great historical space. It's going to be neat to hear them through the radios. We loved the idea of screening these films here for people who might otherwise never have happened upon them. Cult Love Sound Tapes is also helping to make this happen, and we'll be selling some of the merchandise from my record label and giving away things from Tulsa Noise. Everybody’s really excited. Everybody’s listening to Tuareg blues this week.
Root: Brad, are you currently listening to any Tulsa-based "weird music" (as it’s lovingly called on your website)? Is Foxy Digitalis involved, or have you been in the past, in the local music scene?
BR: I’m a big fan of what Peyote Tapes and Cult Love Sound Tapes are both doing. The recent album from CriesLol especially has been in regular rotation over here. Dylan Aycock and Scissor Tail Records is another great one who has put out a lot of great records and tapes through the years.
I used to put on some shows in conjunction with Foxy Digitalis (and my old record label, Digitalis Recordings) here in town, but it’s been years. At that time (between 2004 and 2014), there weren’t as many opportunities and venues that were interested in hosting the shows we put on (to the point that when I put on a three-day festival, I did it at a friend’s gallery in LA because we didn’t have any real options here at the time). A great example of the difference between then and now is that in 2008, I put out Steve Gunn’s first proper album, sold 99% of them across the globe — had maybe 5 or 6 sales in town — and wanted to get him out here for a show, but there wasn’t any way to do it and make it worth the trip, so it never happened. Fast forward to October 2019 and the Bob Dylan Center hosted him at Duet to a great crowd. That was a great experience and honestly opened my eyes to what kinds of things might now be possible here. I’m excited by the potential that exists now and the interest in more experimental music and art.
Root: Nathan, what else is on tap for Tulsa Noise?
NY: We’re actually publishing a compendium of writings and interviews from the Foxy Digitalis archive, as well as starting a Tulsa Noise Journal. And we're cautiously optimistic about hosting a Tulsa Noise Fest in October. [The first happened in 2018.] We're very fortunate to be here in Oklahoma where the tribes have helped vaccinate most of the population and things seem to be getting back, slowly, somewhat to normal. People are chomping at the bit to perform and to get out and hear music again. With these films and other projects, I'm trying to expand the Tulsa Noise umbrella. It was never meant to be about “harsh noise,” which I think is what a lot of people think when they hear the name. It was meant to be a platform for people who didn't have a platform, people who are doing work at the margins of sonic practices. It's not about hurting people's eardrums. It's about pushing the edges of composition and practice, expanding musical possibilities. It’s a way for musicians to be on the same field, not just local musicians, but setting them next to people from these other disparate undergrounds.
Root: What would you say to encourage people to take a few steps out of the middle ground and explore the kinds of music (and film) you’re describing?
BR: One thing that has always been important to me is to remove barriers and any kind of gatekeeping involved with experimental/free music. I’ve always tried to write about music and create a space (whether it’s a website, label, etc.) that was accessible to anyone. I always tell people that, ultimately, the only thing that’s important is finding sounds that you like or that resonate with you in some way. With a lot of this music, there can be a lot of theory, history, etc. behind it that is intimidating. While there is certainly value in that, it’s the sound that ultimately matters most. Sound can transport listeners into a whole new world in an instant. With the music I write about, there’s so much freedom in it that ten people can listen to an album and end up in ten different places, and none of it is right or wrong. I think that’s such a powerful experience and one that can help us learn about ourselves and each other. It’s as simple as opening your mind and opening your heart and challenging yourself with a new experience.
NY: We live here in a community locally, but we really need to be thinking about globalization and what's happening in Africa and India and places like that. Deep down that's what it's all about. I'm working with this idea of sonic agency, how sound has the ability to hold a wealth of emotion inside. And that's why it’s so important in film. If you hear a song, it brings back memories—things like that. Music is huge and sound is huge in the world. It has huge implications with our ecology and this environmental crisis we’re in. All things are connected and we just want to open up a conversation about those kinds of ideas through music.
Tulsa Noise and Foxy Digitalis Present Sahel Sounds: “Akounak” and “Zerzura”
May 6, 8pm
Admiral Twin Drive-In
7355 E Easton St, Tulsa, OK
For more from Sahel Sounds, check out this playlist: