tue 23/05/2017

CD: Tinariwen - Elwan | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Tinariwen - Elwan

CD: Tinariwen - Elwan

The Desert Blues masters in reflective mood

Their music is internal, meditative, sombre, political, philosophical, poetic
Tinariwen: A hill to climb

Tinariwen are one African band you don’t dance to. It’s not that kind of music. They emerged from refugee camps, guerrilla camps and nomadic desert camps through the Eighties and Nineties, and since reaching a global audience via The Festival of The Desert, they have released eight consistently fine albums (the recent Live in Paris is particularly good).

Their music is internal, meditative, sombre, political, philosophical, poetic, and returns again and again to the long line of troubles besetting the Tuareg region of Saharan Mali, riven by Islamists – a former friend of the band ended up becoming a leader of the music-banning, culture-destroying, hand-lopping Ansar Dine, and hopes of Tuareg self-determination as far away a mirage as ever. As a further grim sign of the times, the return of the Festival of the Desert this year was cancelled at the last moment, over terrorism fears.

Theirs is a poetry declaimed over slow loping camel rhythms fired up through a mesh of guitars and bass lines, handclaps and ululations that sounds less like ecstatic release than outbursts of panic, fear, despair. Elwan (Elephants, the title referring to the various powers trampling over Tuareg culture and identity) was recorded far from home, in Joshua Tree, Paris, and the Southern Moroccan oasis of M'hamed El Ghizlane, where a beautiful hidden track featuring flutes was recorded. There are guest appearances from western musicians including Kurt Vile and Mark Lanegan, but the focus is on Tinariwen’s shifting line-up of veterans and relative newcomers. The music makes only minor changes to the Desert Blues of previous albums. It’s more spare and spectral, perhaps, and songs like "Hayati" (My Life) and "Ittus" (Our Goal), the latter featuring just the voice and guitar of one of the group’s founders, Hassan Ag Touhami, rank with their most haunting recordings.  

Tim Cumming's website @CummingTim 

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