Tag Archives: Tinariwen

Sound ‘Round: Tinariwen / Rough Guide to the Sahara

Imports from the Middle East, travel ban be damned

Tinariwen – Elwan (Anti-/Epitaph)

This is desert blues in the fashion you’ve come to expect. Arid production. Call-and-response canticles. Pentatonic scales. Riffs that rarely stray from the tonic. Three chords and a sad song in their heart. But it’s no boss man or past lover keeping this loose collection of Tuaregs down, rather Islamist extremists whose ruthless persecution forced them into exile from their North African home. This is their second album recorded on the run and was assembled in Joshua Tree — a rural patch of dust and sand where Bono found religion and Josh Homme resides as queen of the stoners. For Tinariwen, however, Southern California’s oppressive heat is as close to home on this continent as they can get. Though these songs were constructed half a world away from northern Mali, their war-torn roots are never too far away. Over sunburned guitars, they plead for peace and humanity to prevail over hatred and bloodshed. In hope of reconciling with their enemies, the music hums more than rocks. But what they sacrifice in power they make up with resolute politics and profound conviction. The title translates to “elephants,” a nomadic mammal that finds safety in numbers, too. But they may as well have called it “Exile on Main Street.” Here’s hoping they go home soon enough. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Imidiwan n-akall-in” / “Sastanaqqam” / “Talyat”

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara (World Music Network, 2014)

The Sahara desert stretches from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, roughly the same size as the United States. Though the climate is unrelenting as the landscape is rugged, earth’s largest desert is home to nearly three million people — from nomadic Tuaregs, dune-dwelling tribes and city slickers punished for poor civic planning. The aim of this 14-song compilation is to traverse as much geography as possible, highlighting the region’s unifying musical elements while celebrating its differences. Given the area’s recent trend of revolutions and coup d’etats, things rightly get political from the get-go. Nigerien bluesmen Etran Finawata plead for togetherness, an act that’s more than mere symbolism. For them, it’s life or death — their band members come from traditionally warring factions. Then it’s onto Saharawi stalwart Mariem Hassan, who bemoans oppressive regimes just a few years before bone cancer silenced her soaring contralto. Day-to-day struggles abound. But there’s also joy. Ali Hassan Kuban delivers plenty of it with an ebullient horn section and Emmanuel Jal’s smooth baritone is an oasis in a back half loaded with tribal minimalism. He also delivers the album’s only English-spoken verse on “Ya Salam.” “It means peace, and that’s actually what we need.” When he says “we,” he means us. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Legneiba” / “Mabruk” / “Ya Salam”

Click here to stream the album on Spotify. 


Sound ‘Round: Tinariwen / Paris

Song from Paris, songs by Paris

Tinariwen – Live in Paris (ANTI-)

tinariwen live in parisTheir band name loosely translates to “desert,” as in the Sahara where most of the world’s 1.2 million Tuaregs call home. This band of musicians comes from northern Mali and fled the country during a violent Islamist uprising in 2012 which sought Tuareg statehood. The performance presented here capped a 130-date tour and was recorded at the Bouffes du Nord a year before the vicious attack at the nearby Bataclan theater. Each song is centered on a droning bass note upon which they stack polyrhythms aplenty and guitar riffs so rich and enduring you rightly forget The Black Keys were ever a thing. Before a multi-ethnic and multi-religious audience, they relay the virtues of peace for their war-torn homeland and humanity at large. There’s nary a word of English to be found, but this Westerner picks up on their deft melodicism and steadfast rhythms which match their convictions. Yes, they’re Muslim. Yes, they command your respect in the same way they respect women — an ISIS no-no. They practice what they preach by inviting 75-year-old percussionist Lalla Badi to tag along and give one of the most stirring vocal performances of the year. Though her arid alto is withered by age, she resonates more in three minutes than Adele does on three albums. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Toumast Tincha” / “Imidiwan Ahi Sigidam” / “Tinde Tinariwnen”

Paris – Pistol Politics (Guerilla Funk)

paris pistol politicsOscar Jackson Jr. is such a political iconoclast his firebrand rhymes caused his label to ditch him during the early 90s. Disenfranchised and broke, he swapped hustling behind the mic for hustling stocks near the turn of the millennium. With enough cash from his adult job to fund a renewed interest in music, he returns during the age of Black Lives Matter with a double disc of venom directed at the perpetrators of social injustice and economic cronyism. He rips America for leading “the world in only three categories: number of characters locked up, number of grown folks who believe angels are real, and defense spending.” Then he blasts Obama for being no better than Bush regarding income inequality and the unjust use of military force. Not every track is concerned with hell fire. At 90 minutes, there’s plenty of songs which envision an inner-city utopia, none better than “Give the Summer Drum,” which comes with the hopeful quip, “I’m not talking about murdering blacks, I’m talking about encouraging blacks.” Despite aiming his lyrical barbs at large targets, he never forgets the lives affected by the powers at be. “Murder Suit,” isn’t about overthrowing the government. It’s about a funeral suite for another friend gone too soon. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Murder Suit” / “Give the Summer Drum” / “Change We Can Believe In”

This article appeared in the Dec. 18, 2015 edition of The Monitor

Sound ‘Round: Eric Church / Tinariwen

Guitars are still a thing, ya know

Eric Church – The Outsiders (EMI Nashville)

eric church - the outsidersIt’s hard to posture and portray yourself as a Nashville outsider when your prior album busted the charts, went double platinum and got you invited to Lollapalooza. It’s even harder when your highly touted departure plays up the very pitfalls you’re decrying: an excess of beer, guns and pigheaded machismo. Nevertheless, Eric Church attempts to bid farewell to a scene inundated by the ills of frat-bro culture and give country music the kick in the ass it deserves. Though his lone wolf shtick falls flat lyrically, even his soft side is undercut by limpdick metaphors: a breakup he likens to a roller coaster, comparing his penis to a wrecking ball (ugh) and NASCAR-centric nostalgia that will surely resonate with its target audience. Musically, he’s more adventurous. The title track sports a tricky prog-rock bridge that leans more Metallica than Montgomery Gentry, and the sudsy stomp of “Cold One” benefits from a playful brass section. There’s a lot going on here, at times too much. Leave it to two ballads to salvage the occasion – a small town tearjerker remarkable for its absence of corn and a tranquil meditation on Church’s midlife crisis. GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: Cold One” / “Give Me Back My Hometown” / “A Man Who’s Gonna Die Young

Tinariwen – Emmaar (Anti-)

tinariwenThe first notable African release following a banner year for African music was recorded in the sands of California and fueled in part by Mexican food. A band of nationless Tuaregs in self-imposed exile, they fled their home region of Northern Mali as it succumbed to violence instigated by religious extremists. These 11 songs, all alike in polyrhythmic groove and bluesy sunbathed guitars, double as encouraging words for friends back home and prayers for peace and reconciliation amidst the bloodshed. A sampling of translated lyrics: “Friends, companions, hear my truth and my conviction / These banishments that befall us bring no joy to my heart.” “Peace imposed by force is bound to fail / and give way to hatred.” “My brothers, why all the misunderstanding?” “I no longer believe in unity / I will only believe in it again if those opinions serve a common ideal / That of the people from which they emanate.” Even if you didn’t know the subject matter, however, you’d still grasp their deft melodicism, punctuated syncopation and the intricate exactness of the music. Here’s wishing a homecoming occurs sooner than later. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Timadrit in Sahara” / “Aghregh Medin” / “Toumast Tincha