Tinariwen, a desert-blues band of Tuareg nomads with electric guitars fronted by
Malian singer Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (who formed the band while in exile in Algeria), were the main musicians to emerge from the first "Festival au Desert" that was held in january 2001 at Tin Essako in the Sahara of northeastern Mali.
The Radio Tisdas Sessions (2002), Amassakoul/ Traveller (2004) and Aman Iman/ Water is Life (2007) documented the music they had been playing since the mid 1980s, mostly in Libya.
There is no wild tribal dance and no anguished griot cry in
The Radio Tisdas Sessions (2002). There are mostly
hypnotic polyrhythms and choral chanting in a
lazy and languid spirit that almost sounds psychedelic,
notably the lengthy opener Le Chant Des Fauves .
The problem is that an entire album of this music is a quite
monotonous experience, relieved by the occasional similarity
to blues music (Imidiwaren) or to
Native-American dances (Zin Es Gourmeden).
One picks up more of an Arabic flavor when the singing gets more melismatic
(Khedou Khedou) and more of a contemporary flavor when the beat gets
faster (Mataraden Anexan), but mostly there is little variation
between one chant and the next one.
The songs on Amassakoul/ Traveller (2004) are shorter and
the beat is stronger.
Amassakoul 'N' Tenere and Aldhechen Manin (the catchiest one)
unleash a quacking guitar riff that borders on ska and blues-rock.
The electric, rocking Oualahila Ar Tesninam doesn't even sound
related to the anemic chants of the previous album.
The main riff of Chet Boghassa is reminiscent of
Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson.
The similarity with blues-rock jams is even more surprising (Eh Massina Sintadoben, think a more polite version of the Rolling Stones of Exile on Main Street).
This is probably a less authetic sound, widely contaminated by Western
taste: Chatma is quasi funky; Arawan is a French rap;
and Assoul is even a new-age version of Tibetan monks.
At its best Aman Iman/ Water is Life (2007) offers
faster and more intricate rhythms (for example, Cler Achel).
In general it relies on
upbeat, lively rhythm and streamlined choirs (notably in
Matadjem Yinmixan and
Besides the continuing Westernization (bastardization) of the sound, this
time there is also a bit too much filler. Half of these songs simply package
and repackage stereotypes.
As it often the case, the novelty went out of fashion quickly after
Imidiwan: Companions (World Village, 2009) and
Tassili (2011), the album that popularized them in the USA.
They had become so famous that
in 2012 guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida was kidnapped by Islamists.
Their commercial phase continued with two "electric" albums recorded in the California desert,
Emmaar (2014), featuring violinist Fats Kippler,
Elwan (2017), with guests like Mark Lanegan,
Alain Johannes (formerly of Queens of the Stone Age) and guitarist Matt Sweeney,
and with Amadjar (2019), recorded in the African desert with
female Mauritian griot Noura Mint Seymali,
and then refined in studio with contributions by
violinist Warren Ellis
electric guitarist Stephen O'Malley
Taqkal Tarha is unusually lively.
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