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Music of Mauritania

Mauritania's largest ethnic group is the Moors. In Moorish society, musicians occupy the lowest caste, iggawin, who used song to praise successful warriors as well as their patrons. Iggawin also had the traditional role of messengers, spreading news between villages. In modern Mauritania, professional musicians are paid by anybody to perform; affluent patrons sometimes record the entertainment, and they are then considered to own the recordings, instead of the musician.

Traditional instruments include an hourglass-shaped four-stringed lute called the tidinit and the woman's kora-like ardin. Percussion instruments include the tbal (a kettle drum) and daghumma (a rattle).

Their are three "ways" to play music in the Mauritanian tradition:

Music progresses through five modes (a system with origins in Arab music): karr, fagu (both black), lakhal, labyad (both white, and corresponding to a period of one's life or an emotion) and lebtyat (white, a spiritual mode relating to the afterlife). There are further submodes, making for an extremely complicated system which is followed by nearly all male musicians; female musicians are rare and are not bound by the same rules.

In spite of the rarity of female musicians in Mauritania, the most famous Moorish musician is a woman, Dimi Mint Abba. Dimi's parents were both musicians (her father had been asked to compose the Mauritanian national anthem), and she began playing at an early age. Her professional career began in 1976, when she sang on the radio and then competed, the following year, in the Umm Kalthum Contest in Tunis.