Prior to the release of Aman Iman: Water is Life
, it seemed that few people had heard of Tinariwen. Formed in a refugee camp in the southern Sahara desert, this Touareg band have released two previous albums since 2001, garnering awards and critical acclaim around the world. But 2007's Aman Iman: Water is Life
is probably their best album yet. It's certainly the most accessible, particularly to music fans who would never dream of delving into world music. The circular rhythms of the bass and drums lay down a simple--almost hypnotic--beat, which is then given a rougher edge by the electric riffs of the band's four lead guitarists. It sounds like an even more primal, stripped down blues taken back to its roots (assuming, that is, that the roots of blues were sung in French and Tamashek). Throughout, producer Justin Adams (taking a break from his regular work as Robert Plant's guitarist in Strange Sensation) commendably avoids the high-gloss polish that too often plagues world music albums. This is rebel music in the true sense of the term. With Aman Iman: Water is Life
, Tinariwen have created a rock album that's unique, vibrant and wholly original. Few Western bands can boast the same. --Ted Kord
As 'difficult' third albums go, this disc by the guitar-toting desert blues rebels sounds pretty damn effortless. Happily, producer and long term associate Justin Adams hasn't fixed what isn't broken, although there's an extra layer or two of guitars and a more expansive sound, which should pull in a wider audience. Tinariwen are still riding those rolling traditional Touareg grooves, decorated with disarmingly simple lead riffs and counter-riffs, backed by overlapping meshes of chopping rhythm guitars, hand claps and ululating choruses. Their pentatonic scales will instantly give any delta blues fan the goosebumps, and they make no secret of their 'Western' influences - Hendrix, Robert Plant et al. - who all drew on similar sources.
Like its predecessor Amassakoul, Aman Iman successfully balances the upbeat with the plaintive, and density of sound with sparseness - although nothing is without the wonderful trademark desert drone. To the newcomer, the fact that there are four lead vocalists won't be immediately obvious, as all have similar registers. But while Ibrahim Ag Alhabib delivers seven of the twelve tracks, it's Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni who wrote and sings the loping early highlight 'Mano Dayak' - the sort of thing Adams probably wishes he'd penned. In his atmospheric sleeve notes, the producer graphically recalls how Mohammed Ag Itlale 'Japonais' rejoined the group with 'Ahimana', a piece of spontaneous music-making typical of the way this band work as a fluid musical extended family. You can even hear the fire crackling and somebody's mobile (?) going off during the opening acoustic guitar strums of Ibrahim's lovely, trancey 'Ikyadarh Dim'. The slinky wah-wah guitar funk of 'Assouf' is how Sly Stone might have sounded if he'd had a stint in an Algerian refugee camp, lost a relative in a recent war and sung in Tamashek.
As with most contemporary albums, there are perhaps one or two too many tracks, but as a unified piece of work, Aman Iman sounds like an early highlight of 2007. It's gratifying that, like their compatriot and kindred spirit, the late great Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen haven't deserted their desert home of Adrar des Iforas, and the music they make still evocatively reflects their love of it. A move to Paris or even the Malian capital Bamako - where this was recorded - would surely diminish what makes them special. --Jon Lusk
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window
Glorious 2007 album! Nomadic blues 'n' political rock outta the southern Sahara ... like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan meets The Clash.