Willie Reviews Tinariwen’s “Amadjar”

Willie Reviews Tinariwen’s “Amadjar”

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Tinariwen is back with 13 songs of love, loss, and worlds turned upside-down on their new record, Amadjar. Here’s RPM’s review:

The Tuareg collective Tinariwen has always had something of an untraceable style. You can find bits and pieces of their influences in their music, but what’s most distinctive and entrancing about the group is their wholly new synthesis of these parts. The assouf style is probably the biggest direct influence, but there is also pop music from Algeria, Berber music, and American rock music. Because these styles and their offshoots encompass so much of the contemporary musical landscape, you can start to see reflections and reverberations with genres even further away. The English folk style of Richard Thompson, for example, doesn’t seem so far away, and neither does drone. But with their new album, Amadjar, the members of Tinariwen simply are. The Tinariwen sound itself has created a direct lineage, and Ibrahim Ag Alhabib and company press on with blunt, musical truths.

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According to the band, they didn’t listen to actual American blues until decades into their career. This is surprising, but not totally unexpected because their independent coverage of blues has a different flavor. Often, they’re interested in stating facts as a kind of rebellious insistence. After lifetimes of experiencing persecution in Northern Africa and involvement in Tuareg rebellions, their viewpoint is a unique one and it’s refined into a biting critique. On Kel Tinawen, they sing “The treachery of your evil words has sold out your brothers for your own interests.” On Takount: “These last few years, I’ve journeyed without my saddle / No one even offers me a meal any more.” Rather than a general critique of those abusing their power to spread division, their lyrics are upfront and accusatory. There are few in a better position to speak than this group of artists who have lived one particular slice of history. As they sing together in call and response, there is little talk of referring to an outside standard of any kind. The only confirmation they need is in their art and the truth of their art. After their art was been targeted by militiamen and they still continued on, I suppose they’re not eager to pull punches. The lines that best captures their spirit of insistence comes on “Itous Ohar”: “What I do with my life is nobody else’s business… And that holds true until the day I present myself before my God.”

Just as sincere and fiercely individualistic are the songs about love, lost loves, and apocalyptic change. “Zawal” combines these as it tells an expansive story of an exploding sun threatening the world. In the middle of it all, our narrator sits calmly with his companion atop his camel. In the words and in the twangy music, this lone ranger knows the stakes and continues on because of and despite them. “Mhadjar Yassouf Idjan” recalls the absolute heartbreaking tale of someone trapped in their memories. They sing, “It’s when the world goes to sleep / And silence alone settles in / That I feel this painful longing.” It’s true that we go through life alone, the song seems to say, but we must also put up with the accompanying pitfalls. Still, the full band and multiple singers hoist Ag Alhabib as he sings.

TINARIWEN - KEL TINAWEN (Feat. Cass McCombs)

Throughout the album, they collaborate with quite a few Western artists. Cass McCombs, Warren Ellis, and Stephen O’Malley, among others, all contribute different variations on Tinariwen’s music. Why is it such an appealing style to western ears? I think partially because it’s familiar music reflected through a hitherto unfamiliar lens, but also because it turns out to be a different system of composition, scale, and way of performing. These different building blocks are simply absent in the blues-rock tradition and likely won’t make their way in anytime soon. But what makes Tinariwen a global band with a universal appeal both on their home continent and around the world is their unwillingness to do any kind of totalizing. Their lyrical themes stay sharp, their sound incorporates influences naturally, and their audience can only hope to keep up.

Score: A happy peek behind the curtain of human relationships.

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