Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit


Release date: 10 February 2014
Tinariwen – Emmaar
05 February 2014, 09:30 Written by Janne Oinonen

Call and response vocals offering poetic tributes to the beauty and danger of Sahara, jagged guitar riffs, sinewy grooves that proceed with the unhurried pace of a camel making its way across the desert: in their own way, Tinariwen are every bit as predictable as, say, AC/DC.

With most acts, such relentless repetition of a few tricks would lead to groans of boredom. In Tinariwen’s case, however, you wouldn’t want the band to change. The perfect desert-blues formula, first heard outside the band’s Saharan habitat on 2001′s Radio Tisdas Sessions, couldn’t possibly be improved upon.

That said, Emmaar isn’t quite business as usual. The violent unrest in the northern parts of Mali that the robe-clad Tuareg collective call home reached such catastrophic proportions (one band member was reportedly arrested by the fundamentalist Ansar Dine) that the band were forced to forsake their beloved Sahara. Tinariwen is sadly all too familiar with political upheaval. When the Malian government clashed with the Tuareg some decades ago, veteran members of the band fought back, leading to the kind of authentic rebel stance that feebly posturing rock bands and overly vivid imaginations of publicity departments can only dream of.

Not that Tinariwen need a boost from a colourful back story: their music, a mix of traditional Tuareg ballad forms and electric guitar tricks apparently picked up from bootlegged Eric Clapton tapes, is easily potent enough to elevate them from the ‘world music’ margins. Reassuringly, relocating to another desert (Joshua Tree in California) for the recording sessions has led to approximately zero change in the band’s approach. Lean grooves that speak volumes about the supposed connection between Malian music and the gritty blues of John Lee Hooker et al unfurl at a casual yet still decidedly intense pace, whilst the band’s four guitarists dish out riffs and flurries of notes that sting like hot desert sand whipped up by strong winds. Superb soul-poet Saul Williams and ‘name’ guitarists Matt Sweeney and Josh Klinghoffer (Red Hot Chili Peppers) make appearances, but all but disappear into the band’s hypnotic interplay: on this evidence, Tinariwen are certainly not intending to assimilate rock moves in search of a bigger ‘Western’ audience anytime soon.

Such strong musical identity means that even the tiniest of tweaks sound pretty seismic. The likes of opener “Toumast Tincha”, the bumpy ‘desert-rap’ of “Chaghaybou” and the sizzling slow-burn of “Imidiwan Ahi Sigdim” sound like classic Tinariwen, but subtle use of echo and reverb means there’s a little bit more meat around the bare bones of the economically administered notes than usual: this is obviously the sound of a band playing together in a room, discovering the tunes together as they are being recorded, with irresistibly electrifying outcomes. There are no obvious crowd-pleasers such as “Chet Boghassa” (off 2004′s Amassakoul) or “Ahimana” (2007′s Aman Iman), but the faultless quality control and – it seems – generally enhanced intensity levels more than compensate, making Emmaar possibly the band’s most consistently satisfying album yet. With one foot in the desert and the other in the Louisiana bayou courtesy of violinist Fats Kaplin, the brilliant “Imadiwanin Ahi Tifhamam” proves that the band can learn new tricks – and still sound exactly like Tinariwen.

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