Prodigies: Dimi Mint Abba

Episode Summary

Dimi Mint Abba (1958-2011) was the diva of the desert. Widely considered Mauritania’s most famous musician, her soaring vocals have proven the soundtrack for generations of North Africans.

Episode Notes

Dimi Mint Abba (1958-2011) was the diva of the desert. Widely considered Mauritania’s most famous musician, her soaring vocals have proven the soundtrack for generations of North Africans.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Luvvie Ajayi Jones. I’m a New York Times Best Selling author and host of the podcast Professional Troublemaker. I’m so excited to be your guest host for this month of Womanica! 

Today we’re talking about the diva of the desert. Widely considered Mauritania’s most famous musician, her soaring vocals have proven the soundtrack for generations of North Africans. 

Let’s talk about Dimi Mint Abba. 

Dimi was born in Mauritania, in 1958, with music in her blood. Her family were griots, part of the musician caste of Moorish society. Though they’re at the bottom of the social hierarchy, these performers have been essential to Mauritanian culture for centuries – as oral historians, soothsayers, and sources of entertainment.  

Dimi began singing when she was very young.  By the age of 10, her mother started teaching her to play the ardin, a multi-stringed harp played exclusively by women griots. 

In 1976, when Dimi was 18, she won a national radio competition. The prize was a chance to represent Mauritania at a music festival in Tunisia. While still a teenager, Dimi won a gold medal for her performance of Art’s Plume. The song opens with the line, “Art's Plume is a balsam, a weapon, and a guide enlightening the spirit of men.” It argues that musicians are actually more important to a society than fighters. 

This performance, and this win, shot Dimi to international fame. Over the next decade, she became a star in the Arab world, performing throughout Africa and the Middle East. 

At the heart of Dimi’s career was her ability to reinterpret traditional tunes. Mauritania sits at a cultural crossroads in northwest Africa, bordered by Western Sahara, Algeria, Mali and Senegal. Its music reflects that diversity, melding Arabic, Berber and West African influences. Dimi would often perform with her husband and daughter, backed by electric guitar and her own ardin. 

It wasn’t just Dimi’s style that broke barriers. It was the way she shared her music. 

In 1989, Dimi set out on a European tour. For many of those in the Western audiences, it was the first time they’d heard Mauritanian music. A year later, in 1990, Dimi released “Moorish Music from Mauritania.” It was reportedly the first time that griot music had been recorded in a studio.  

Over the next few years, Dimi recorded another, more traditional album, toured Europe again, and, in 1994, performed for the first time in the U.S. One of the only Mauritanian artists to have ever released an international album, she became, essentially, a cultural ambassador for her country. 

Upon her return home in the mid-1990s, Dimi gave birth to another daughter. She then took her place, once again, as the diva of the desert. She spent a decade touring, performing, and headlining festivals.   

Her blues style caught the attention of some of the biggest stars in Africa, and around the world. And in 2006,  Dimi recorded a new track with flamenco musicians in Madrid, highlighting her ability to transcend genres.

In 2011, Dimi died of a brain hemorrhage while on tour in Morocco. She was 52 years old. 

For more information, find us on Facebook and Instagram @womanicapodcast. 

Special thanks to creators Jenny and Liz Kaplan for inviting me to guest host.

Talk to you tomorrow!