Release Date: Aug 30, 2011
Record label: Epitaph
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, International, African Traditions, Desert Blues
The cosmic, roiling Afro-Arabic groove this North African guitar band generates is like a sandstorm: not something one controls so much as learns to navigate. The outsiders on this acoustic-leaning LP – members of TV on the Radio, Wilco and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band – get this. On "Imidiwan Ma Tenam," Nels Cline stokes a distant bonfire of electric-guitar noise; on "Walla Illa," Tunde Adebimpe adds ooh-oohs amid hypnotic fingerpicking.
Tinariwen are revolutionaries in both senses of the word. The band members are former soldiers who during the early 1990s fought in the Tuareg uprisings in Niger and Mali. Even during that time, they performed at clubs and social gatherings in various countries, circulating cassette tapes of songs melding North African traditions with electrified blues and rock.
The kings of desert blues remain full of surprises. Their fifth album sidesteps the rolling, electric style that's made them world-conquerors for a return to acoustic campfire camaraderie. Simultaneously come collaborations with cutting-edge American rock. Wilco's Nels Cline adds eerie western static to the opening "Imidiwan Ma Tyennan" and TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe brings falsetto vocals and tricky electronica to "Tenere Taqqim Tossam".
It's not always a good sign when a band (or their producer) invite special guests to join in on a recording or add overdubs later, and what we have here is a brave, mostly impressive no-nonsense acoustic set that includes a batch of unnecessary collaborations. Tinariwen are a brilliant live band who have deservedly built up an international following for their infectious, pounding fusion of desert blues and the styles of the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara. After their last album, the charming, surprisingly laid-back Imidiwan, I had been expecting a return to the electric guitars and energy of their live shows or their classic Aman Iman.
In southeastern Algeria, there is a vast plateau set aside as a national park called Tassili N'Ajjer. It's close to the border with Libya, and years ago, in the 1980s and early 90s, it was a place of relatively safe passage for Kel Tamashek fighters moving between the refugee camps in Libya and the battlefront in northern Mali. To look at it in satellite images, you might think you were looking at he surface of some distant moon, long ago scarred by geologic activity but now barren and strangely beautiful.
Tinariwen, the Malian Touraeg group, finally broke through to Western audiences with 2007's Aman Iman and 2009's Imidiwan -- culminating in an appearance at the Glastonbury Festival -- 20 years after their inception. The increased profile did little to alter their "desert blues" with its incantatory droning -- primarily electric -- guitars, claps and organic percussion, and chanted vocals in songs about struggle and independence (some of Tinariwen's members were once rebel guerilla fighters). That sound comes out of a nation that exists between the harsh Sahara and the lush African savannah to the south, but it has less in common with other Malian musicians because the band is nomadic, never staying in one place for long.
Dismiss [a]Tinariwen[/a] as the boring band you invariably fast-forward through on [i]Later… With Jools Holland[/i] at your own risk. For one, theirs is, undoubtedly, a pretty bad-ass tale: a band of Tuareg desert-dwellers, formed in the mid-’80s in between stints at military training camps as they prepared to join the battle against the Malian government. [b]‘Tassili’[/b], too, sounds neither glossily packaged for western audiences, nor too easy to please.
Tinariwen released their first full-length album, Radio Tisdas Sessions, in 2001, but it was their second, 2004’s Amassakoul, that caught the world’s ear, brought them widespread acclaim, and kick-started the whole “desert blues” movement. The first decade of the 2000s was a heady time that saw the band playing in London for the Live 8 concerts, jamming with Carlos Santana, and joining Robert Plant onstage for a tear-it-up version of “Whole Lotta Love. ” (YouTube it—it’s worth a look, notwithstanding the grainy video and lousy sound.
Much has changed for the band of Tuareg musicians known as Tinariwen over the past few years. Their status has gradually risen outside of their home in the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali, largely thanks to a series of releases (particularly the albums Aman Iman and Imidiwan) and lavish praise heaped on them by the likes of Brian Eno, Thom Yorke, and Carlos Santana. But there have also been important changes in style and circumstance.
A lot of bands classify themselves or are designated as some permutation of Afrobeat, regardless of how much they actually borrow from genuine African genres. In the face of questionable distillations of African music, it’s no surprise that one of the first genuine emissaries of sub-Saharan “desert blues”, Tinariwen, returned to their roots on their fifth album, Tassili. The band eschewed studios to record in the Algerian boonies, hauling instruments and hundreds of pounds of equipment with them.
Hailing from the southern Sahara, Tinariwen's nomadic guitar mantras encompass the spiritual hypnotism of Tibetan chants, the bare grittiness of Malian blues, and the rebel soul of reggae without sounding like any of those genres. The musical tribe's debut for Anti-, Tassili, serves as a proper stateside introduction, partially recorded at the Loft in Chicago with TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, who takes the lead on "Tenere Taqhim Tossam," as well as Wilco guitarist Nels Cline (opener "Imidiwan Ma Tenam") and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band ("Ya Messinagh"). Tassili's more acoustic than previous efforts but entirely transfixing, filled with haunted pleas about solitude ("Asuf D Alwa"), faith ("Ya Messinagh"), and drought ("Takest Tamidaret").
"Tassili n'Ajjer" translates from Tinariwen's native Tamazight to "Plateau of the Rivers", a mountain range in the Sahara desert in southeast Algeria, North Africa. And references to home and what fate awaits the Touareg people are recurring themes on Tassili. On their fifth album the Sahara's best-known rebel rockers have stepped off the distortion pedals and gone back to their acoustic roots with songs composed by the fire in desert camps.
Tinariwen continue to shift perceptions of what ‘world’ music can be. John Doran 2011 It’s been a good year for African desert rock. In April, young Tuareg bruisers Tamikrest released their second (and best) album, Toumastin, and now the heavyweight champs Tinariwen are back to deliver a TKO in the form of Tissali, their fifth long-player. The band formed from members of the Sub-Saharan diaspora stranded in a Libyan refugee camp in 1979, returning home after a ceasefire between the Malian government and rebel forces was agreed in the 1990s.