Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Desert Blues by Twos - Tinariwen and Terakaft

When Tinariwen emerged on the world stage with their album The Radio Tisdas Sessions, in 2000, Tuareg rebel music became an instant sensation. The band's introduction of electric guitar into a traditional call-and-response music in the '80s, paired with revolutionary lyrics and insistent, throbbing rhythms, led to the band's legendary status among the Tuareg. Listening to the music for the first time, one could hear a great desert space: It was a revelatory experience.

The desert remains at the heart of Tassili, in many ways a more austere and intimate recording than earlier Tinariwen CDs. Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the band's leader, penned the songs, and his guitar and voice center the album, especially on the solo acoustic lament, "Tameyawt." The whole album has a solemn tone; perhaps that reflects the reality of drier, hotter deserts and atrophied liberation struggles. 

Tassili reaches for a more international sound on two songs. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band drops some chops into "Ya Messinagh," which is a little startling on first listen, just because it is so foreign to this music and therefore unexpected. It is not a perfect marriage, but it does explore the blues frontier of the song. The following "Walla Illa" has the harmonic vocalizations of Tunde Adebimpe, giving it a pop smoothness that seems out of place. The generous twelve songs on this album leave room for these experiments, however, and whether acoustic or electric, the whole album is charged. It's a great one to listen to with headphones.

The recent Terakaft release Aratan N Azawad is in the same genus, though Terakaft has a much more evident rock edge powered by dual electric guitars. Propelled with ample, driving percussion, many of the songs on this album gallop, and if you close your eyes, you can imagine camels and horses.

Terakaft and Tinariwen are closely related bands, with several Tinariwen veterans forming the core of Terakaft, so it is not surprising to find similarities in their music. Terakaft's lyrics are more directly confrontational, decrying the plight of the Tuareg peoples caught in changing reality. The attitude of defiance imbues the music, too, giving it a brash edge. Rebel music, for sure, apart from "Akoz Imgharen." That song is just as surprising as the departures in Tassili, but this time it is a West African guitar mash-up that creates an intriguing mix that may have made it onto my exclusive dance tape.

Both these bands have been characterized as 'desert blues' by promoters and critics alike, trying to shoehorn this music into a box with Ali Farka Touré and others. Don't believe it. This is authentic music that adapts and appropriates what ears hear, like all music, evolving in the creative process with tentacles that extend in all directions. Both of these albums are powerful blasts from the desert. That's characterization enough. You can get them at your usual digital download source, or with their beautiful and informative packaging here.


Apurva Bahadur said...

Thank you for the review. It would be great if you include your favourite (youtube) clips from this group in the review. Apurva from Pune, India.

Satan_My_Lord said...

it is very difficult for me to tell which one of theses amazing bands is my favorite one!

so nice music !