In recent years Tinariwen have enjoyed worldwide success and acclaim from artists such as Robert Plant, Brian Eno and Carlos Santana. Last year they returned to the desert to record their latest studio album, released this week – Tassili.
Tinariwen have far more in common with traditional folk music than may be immediately apparent. Both, for instance, rely heavily on the struggle of the oppressed and the link between the land and the people. The fact that these influences were brought to bear directly on the lives of the artists, rather than through historical significance, is telling.
This new album was recorded, and named after, the protected Algerian desert region of Tassili N’Ajjer, and sees the band returning to a former safe haven, the region of Mali where the band are based being too dangerous for visitors. Although the desert setting must have presented countless technical problems (400 kilos of equipment in a tented studio, sand, extreme temperatures), the resulting acoustic sessions have an authenticity that probably couldn’t be achieved by any other means.
Among the expected (but never predictable) desert blues, both upbeat and mellow, many of the songs on the album stand out as illustrations of the progress Tinariwen have made as professional musicians.
Imidiwan ma tenman provides a gentle acoustic opening, lamenting the loss of their desert home. This quickly develops into a more polished sound and introduces to the album the atmospheric guitar work of Nels Cline (Wilco). The understated vocal, bass and acoustic guitar of Assuf dalwa is evocative of this ancient desert setting. Tassili N’Ajjer is an important archaeological area where evidence of occupation, including rock paintings, goes back 7,000 years. You can almost feel the desert wind, hear the flapping of tents and watch the sparks rise from the camp fire.
The world-wide reputation Tinariwen have developed, and the influences they’ve comfortably absorbed, are brought to the fore in Tenere taqqim tossam. With welcome and effective contributions from Tunde Adebimpe & Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio), this song is presented with both Tamashek and English vocals, and a haunting, poetic voiceover.
In Ya messinagh more desert blues are brought to world stage with the inclusion of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who bring their peerless New Orleans Jazz down to a hot, desert tempo. The combination seems even more impressive on learning that the brass section was added post-recording in New Orleans. There may be claims that this detracts from the album’s, and the artist’s authenticity, but if you prefer to lose yourself in the music rather than the process, the result stirs the soul.
Imidiwan win Sahara calls for unity among desert people with passion and integrity in a typical Tinariwen offering, but with the slicker, more mellow production that’s the hallmark of this release. Djeredjere is a song of a tortured soul that Ali Farka Toure would have revelled in.
Tassili offers existing fans of Tinariwen more of what they love, while embracing influences that are sure to bring them to a wider audience. In returning to their desert roots, Tinariwen have succeeded in shaking off the two most potent symbols of their origins – the gun and the electric guitar, yet still affirm their right to exist as a desert people. In sharing their musical roots, the musicians on Tassili share their experiences, their view of the world and how it has affected their lives and those of the people they love.
Imidiwan Ma Tennam
Tenere Taqqim Tossam
Tenere Taqqim Tossam
Tassili desert sessions – full version
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