The songs of Tinariwen mourn the passing of the epic golden age of the Saharan tribes, while endeavoring to map out a future for the generations who must survive beyond it and live with the modern world. Recorded with the help of solar energy in the studios of Radio Tisdas, the Tamashek station of Kidal, the new album, 'Amassakoul' immobilizes their wandering music at long last.
This second album by the leading Touareg desert blues band in Mali arrives at a time when many will be suffering from the winter blues. If you didn't make it to the Festival in the Desert but enjoyed the live album, you'll be happy to discover that this music has a similar power to transport you to the heats of the Sahara. There's even a studio version of the song "Aldhechen Manin" which first appeared on that wonderfully atmospheric compilation.
In the same way that the experience of displacement and disenfranchisement has produced a vibrant rebel music culture among the Saharawi people of Western Sahara, Tinariwen's roots lie in the Touareg rebellion and subsequent diaspora of Toureg people which took place after Mali's independence.
Tinariwen were the first group to adapt traditional Touareg music onto electric guitars when they began making music in 1979. They are still led by original member Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who has the most distinctive vocal and guitar style of the current male soloists.
Four of the six other musicians represented on "Amassakoul" have joined the group since their 2001 debut "The Radio Tisdas Sessions".And this second album is a more polished and varied affair, with less massive reverb and a good deal more studio tinkering on most songs.
As before, "Amassakoul" is dominated by distinctively gentle rocking rhythms (which emulate the gait of a camel in all its moods), call and response vocals, gnarled but simple guitar lines, ululations and handclaps.
New elements include the occasional use of flute on tracks like "Alkhar Dessouf" and the closing vocal drone of "Assoul". There's also more percussive detail than before best heard on "Eh Massina Sintadoben" and the vocal patterns of "Araouane" seem to show the influence of Jamaican-style chatting or rapping.
Otherwise, this is pretty much the Tinariwen fans will know and love. The shock of the new that made their first album so appealing isn't as strong, but just as nomads never stand still, they are moving on musically. --Jon Lusk
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