In her native Mauritania, Dimi Mint Abba is a superstar, and one of the few artists from that country to have an album released internationally. Dimi is widely regarded as Mauritanias best-loved female griot. The griot occupies a special place in society; much more than a singer or musician, they could be described as a walking library. Through their songs they act as historian, biographer, social commentator, poet, soothsayer, and storyteller, but are equally adept at singing love-songs and entertaining at social gatherings. In Mauritania griots are known as iggawin, and Dimi was born into an iggawin family in 1958.
Dimi comes from a prominent musical family, her father Sidaty Ould Abba is a singer and composer, who wrote the Mauritanian national anthem; her mother, the late Feu Mounina Mint Eida was an experienced ardin (similar to the West African kora) player, who began teaching Dimi when she was 10 years old. Through her teenage years Dimi began to excel at the instrument, as well as the tidnit (type of lute), and when she was 18 won a national radio competition for her playing. Her big breakthrough came, as a singer, when she won a prize at the Festival dOum Kelthoum in Tunisia in 1976; she went on to represent Mauritania at various other festivals including The Festival of Arabic Youth in Iraq (1977), Festival of Timgad in Algeria (1978), and the Festival of Agadir in Morocco in 1986.
In 1989 Dimi embarked on her first European tour, which gave much of the audience their first taste of music from Mauritania. The following year saw the release of the World Circuit album Moorish Music from Mauritania. The recording features Abba and the gifted singer Khalifa Ould Eide plus ardin, tidinit and tabal, with female chorus and electric guitar. The album was the first studio quality recording of Moorish music by any artist from that country.
Although the music of neighbouring countries (Mali, Senegal, Algeria and Morocco) are better known outside of Africa, the modern and traditional music of Mauritania are very unfamiliar. The desert republic is at the crossroads of Africa, and its musical repertoire has been formed over centuries of contact with a wide variety of African and Arabic cultures to produce a passionate, expressive singing style over complex rhythms. In turn it has been a strong influence on the music of other countries: the impassioned singing and hand clapping has been a powerful influence on flamenco. We dont just use the khomasi scales which dominate the North African style, we use all the Arab scales, says Khalifa. Our music depends a lot on improvisation in singing and you can hear the relationship between the smooth, haunting Arabic melodies and singing accompanied by the kora sound of West Africa. The critical acclaim that the album received saw Dimi return to Europe and also tour the USA in 1993.
Dimi has since become an institution in her homeland and a valued performer throughout Europe and Africa; her status as one of the great female singers has grown as respected musicians such as Ali Farka Toure, Baaba Maal and Youssou NDour have openly expressed their admiration for her talents. Dimi continued to tour in the nineties and won three gold medals for best voice at the 1996 African-Arab exhibition in Johannesburg, and again winning gold for best voice two years later in Dakar. Dimi also spent much of the nineties performing in Morocco where she appeared on television, played with the royal orchestra and was invited to play for King Hassan II. She played a mesmerising set at the Essouira festival in 2000 and again at the Festival of Sacred Music in Fez, Morocco in 2002. In February 2004 Dimi was one of the headline acts at the Festival International des Musiques in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. She also played a stunning set at the Festival in the Desert in Mali two years ago, delighting the crowd with her hauntingly hypnotic and spine-tingling voice.
This summer will be the first chance for English audiences to hear from the Diva of the Desert in nearly a decade. Dimi has begun working on recordings for a new album, expected out on World Circuit next year.