Review: Tinariwen embodies the desert blues on ‘Amadjar’
Tinariwen, “Amadjar” (ANTI-)
Tinariwen don’t need to create a mythology for or about themselves. The story of this Western African band of nomadic Tuaregs from Mali includes exile, violent conflicts and an attachment to ancient traditions informed by current affairs.
Their latest release, “Amadjar,” is the epitome of desert blues. Recorded under a tent in the sandy outskirts of Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, the setting provides a more informal and natural, though far from laid-back, atmosphere.
Some songs reflect the seemingly similar challenges humanity is facing around the world. “Taqkal Tarha” says “Nothing has any meaning / Days follow each other and look the same,” while “Wartilla” claims that “The hardest thing is to see love and friendship disappear.”
Most, however, make direct and unmistakable allusions to their personal fates and political struggles. “Amalouna” is practically a manifesto — “Today, our future and our hope is an armed return to our homeland” and “Kel Tinawen” warns that “Evil tongues, you can keep talking / The uprising will be impossible to suppress.”
The dominant singing and songwriting is by founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, the resonance of their deep voices magnificently matched and tempered by Lala and Aicha’s backing vocals.
The instrumentation, if needed, can be carried on their backs: percussion and a legion of electric and, featuring probably more prominently than on their latest albums, acoustic guitars.
Breaking the loneliness of the desert are guests like Mauritania’s Noura Mint Seymali and Jeiche Ould Chighaly, providing a local infusion of passion and skill, and, recorded separately, possibly more familiar names like Warren Ellis, Cass McCombs and Micah Nelson.
Listening to “Amadjar” without knowing anything about Tinariwen or surveying the translated lyrics may be moving. But appreciating their circumstances, the manner of their recordings and the details of their artistry leads to much deeper — if possibly disconcerting — fulfillment.