Tinariwen, Emmaar

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 02.11.14 in Reviews



Currently displaced from their Northern Mali territory, where Tuareg insurgents battle radical Islamists, this band of exiles recorded its seventh album in the sketchy-sounding Maison de Fester and Gomez, a makeshift single-room studio located in another desert far, far away: Joshua Tree, California. And while Tamikrest may write more compelling songs these days, and Omara “Bombino” Moctar may play a badder guitar, Tinariwen’s three-guitar vamps, djembe drumming, call-and-response Tamashek vocals and insistent handclaps continue to exert a timeless tug on our attention.

Sounding more organic and single-minded than ever

“The ideals of the people have been sold off cheap, my friends,” sings Ag Alhabib in the vaguely cosmic-country groove of “Toumast Tincha” following its dusty spoken-word intro. Group conscience Ag Alhabib leads several tunes criticizing those who abandon Tuareg traditions for seductive modernisms; Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, the band’s other lead guitarist and singer, takes a more traditionalist tack, blending Tuareg poetry and history in tracks like the galloping “Imdiwanin Ahi Tifhamam” (Friends, Understand Me). Tinariwen’s music sounds more organic and single-minded than ever here, although you may miss their earlier albums’ female contributions. Country traditionalist Fats Kaplin occasionally adds subtle steel guitar, making Ag Alhabib’s way-downtempo “Sendad Eghlalan” (This Constant Lethargy) sound particularly languid. Lyrically, however, it’s a call to action. Emmaar means “the heat on the breeze” in Tamashek; that might also suggest a prairie fire.