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Vieux Farka Toure Kicks Ass on The Secret – How About the Special Guests?

Many years ago, a bunch of early jam band guys got together and decided to make a tribute to Muddy Waters. The result was a lacklustre album called Fathers and Sons (it’s easy to find, if you really want to hear it). The guys from the Butterfield Blues Band and their friends were bigger fans of Muddy’s than he was of them, but probably since it beat working as the handyman at Chess Records (which is what the guy who might have been the greatest blues slide guitarist of all time did when he wasn’t on tour or in the studio), Waters did the album. And phoned it in. Fast forward a little more than forty years: some of the big names on the American jam band circuit have discovered powerhouse Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure (the oldest son of the great Ali Farka Toure). And they’re all over his new album, The Secret. The biggest secret here is that almost all of them elevate their game – with one exception, this isn’t a bunch of white wannabes patronizing somebody from another tradition whose music they admire. For the most part, this is a clinic in how musicians from different cultures can create real alchemy if they’re inspired.

What’s nicest to see is that Toure is allowed to be the star he is, doubletracking and tripletracking here and the result is exhilarating. Acoustic rhythm guitarist Ali Magassa holds it down incisively and hypnotically with broken chords and simple, direct riffs over the loping calabash and djembe of Souleymane Kane. The first track, Sokosondou sets the stage for what’s to come with an endless succession of molten lava hammer-ons and hypnotic call-and-response vocals in Toure’s native dialect. Toure plays acoustic on the second cut, Aigna, where Derek Trucks does a surprisingly killer evocation of a sitar with his slide guitar, livening up the dusky atmospherics, getting darker and growlier as it goes on. Guess all that hanging out with Susan Tedeschi has been a good thing for him! The fourth track, Ali is a vertigo-inducing polyrhythmic forest of guitars, Toure throwing in a subtle, ominous chromatic allusion once in awhile

The first of the Malian/American hybrids, here, Watch Out is a swaying, funky number featuring Eric Krasno (of the generic Soulive and dubious Lettuce), who contributes some biting, vibrato-toned incisions with a little wah thrown in for good measure. Aaron Neville, who knows a little something about hypnotic grooves, hangs back with the beat and adds terse, smart organ fills; Toure winds it out with one of his unstoppable, stunningly precise, adrenalizing solos. A boisterously swaying, mostly acoustic number, Wonda Guay has Toure lingering overhead like an out-of-control helicopter. The title track, a hypnotic, resolute instrumental features a guitar track by his late father along with spiky textures from Ganda Tounkara’s ngoni and Cheikh Diallo’s distant flute atmospherics. It’s one of those tracks where it’s hard to figure out who’s playing what – you just get lost in it. The poignantly catchy closing track, Touri, is much the same. Borei, a fast, shuffling concert favorite is a feast of Toure textures, fast fluid runs, chords blasting on the beat and a searing, mostly one-note solo midway through.

The most traditional desert blues song here, Sankare Diadje has a typical call-and- response over a hypnotic, circular two-chord theme. Meandering, midtempo and ominously modal, Gido features John Scofield, who slinks through a wary, slowly furtive chromatically-charged solo and only puts the bite on once, at the very end, when he can’t contain himself any longer. Amani Quay begins with a gorgeous twelve-string acoustic intro that gives way to a shuffling, hypnotic groove, Toure picking it up and blasting through yet another rapidfire solo, this one a little sunbaked and slightly restrained. The only dud here features the clown prince of wretched jamband excess, Dave Matthews. When you put this on your ipod, you’ll want to delete track three. But what a pleasant surprise this is – and reason to check out what Derek Trucks and Eric Krasno have been up to lately.

June 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rough Guide to Desert Blues – More Diverse Than You Might Imagine

Consider this the Nuggets of duskcore. The new Rough Guide to Desert Blues anthology is a vivid illustration of how much variety there is in desert blues, and also includes some excellent tracks by artists outside the circle of usual suspects. No desert blues collection would be complete without Tinariwen or Ali Farka Toure, and this one’s got both. And like all the Rough Guides, it comes with a bonus cd, in this case a whole album of Etran Finatawa which is worth the price of admission all by itself. But the real drawing card here is the more obscure tracks. The most psychedelic is by Tamikrest, layering eerie, atmospheric electric guitar washes against percussive fingerpicking. The most rock-oriented one is by Mauritanian singer Malouma, with Rhodes piano and incisive, distorted electric guitar accents that really catch fire on the turnaround. El Profeta, by Jalihena Natu has a roughhewn, demo feel, his rousing vocals rising over aggressively squiggly hammer-on guitar work. A pretty standard one-chord jam by Tartit morphs unexpectedly into a joyous, circular dance; Western Sahara’s Mariem Hassan belts her song Tefla Madlouma with drama and passion over a repetitive flute-and-guitar riff.

Tinariwen is represented by Tenhert, a slinky, unusually energized proto-boogie with breathless Tamashek lyrics; by contrast, Ali Farka Toure’s Mali Dje is understated even by his standards, patiently staking out terrain with a series of terse, watery guitar motifs. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba contribute a crescendoing Ali Farka Toure-style cut from his excellent new album I Speak Fula. And Tinariwen spinoff Terakaft gets a track that’s almost funk rock with richly cross-shaded guitars, one running through a wah pedal. There are also a couple of ringers here, a simple, repetitive instrumental by Niger’s ngurumi lute virtuoso Mamane Barka and a duskcore-tinged pop song by Amadou and Mariam with soaring, mariachiesque trumpet.

Likewise, the Etran Finatawa cd spans the range of duskcore: the spacious, skeletal opening track; a couple of hypnotic riff-driven numbers that crescendo surprisingly with bracing electric guitar solos; the majestic reverb-guitar anthem Iledeman; the spiky, circular Aliss and Anadjibo, and the playful Ronde with its tricky false endings. It’s out now on World Music Network.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vieux Farka Toure Burns His Guitar

Vieux Farka Toure didn’t really burn his guitar, at least the way Hendrix burned his. He just turned in an incandescent performance. It’s a useful rule of thumb that if a performer plays well in daylight, he or she will rip up whatever joint they’re in come nightfall. Or maybe Toure’s just a morning person. Thursday afternoon in Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the Malian guitarist didn’t let the crushing tropical heat and humidity phase him, blasting through one long, hypnotic, minimalistically bluesy number after another.

Like his father, desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, he’ll hang on a chord for minutes at a clip, building tension sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes with savage abandon. That intensity – along with a long, pointless percussion solo- is what got the audience – an impressively diverse mix of daycamp kids and their chaperones, office workers and smelly trendoids – on their feet and roaring. Using his signature icy, crystalline, Albert Collins-esque tone, he took his time getting started, subtly varying his dynamics. What he does is ostensibly blues, inasmuch as his assaultive riffage generally sticks within the parameters of the minor-key blues scale. But the spacious, slowly unwinding melodies are indelibly Malian, with the occasional latin tinge or a shift into a funkier, swaying rhythm. This time out the band included a bass player along with Toure’s steady second guitarist, playing spikily hypnotic vamps on acoustic, along with a sub drummer who was clearly psyched to be onstage and limited himself to a spirited, thumping pulse, and a duo of adrenalized percussionists, one on a large, boomy calabash drum.

Lyrics don’t seem to factor much into this guy’s songwriting: a couple of numbers featured call-and-response on the chorus in Toure’s native tongue, but otherwise it was all about the guitar. As the energy level rose, he’d launch into one volley after another of blistering 32nd-note hammer-ons. And he wouldn’t waste them – after he’d taken a crescendo up as far as he could, he’d signal to the band and in a split second they’d end the song cold. It’s hard to think of another player who blends purposefulness with blinding speed to this degree (although, again, Albert Collins comes to mind – although Toure is more playful than cynical). Toure’s show this past spring at le Poisson Rouge was the last on an obviously exhausting tour: he’d sprint as far as he could, then back off when it was obvious that he needed a breather. Thursday was more of a clinic in command: Toure was completely in control this time out. Like most great guitarists, he spends a lot of time on the road (and has a killer new live album just out, very favorably reviewed here), so you can expect another New York appearance sooner than later.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Vieux Farka Toure – Live

A characteristically intense, often exhilarating album by one of the great guitarists of our time. Vieux Farka Toure’s dad Ali Farka Toure was one of the inventors of duskcore, the patiently meandering, hypnotic desert blues. Unlike his dad, Vieux Farka Toure is not exactly a patient player, but in the family tradition he’s also invented his own style of music. Whether it’s blues, or an electrified and electrifying version of Malian folk music is beside the point. He may be playing in a completely different idiom, but Vieux Farka Toure’s approach is essentially the same as Charlie Parker’s, creating mini-symphonies out of seemingly endless, wild volleys of notes within a very simple chord structure. Bird played the blues; sometimes Toure does. Other times he just jams on a single chord. Whatever the case, Toure is the rare fret-burner who still manages to make his notes count for something: this album isn’t just mindless Buckethead or Steve Vai-style shredding. The obvious comparison (and one which invites a lot of chicken-or-the-egg questions, which may be academic) is to hypnotic Mississippi hill country bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough and Will Scott.

Toure’s attack is fluid and precise, utilizing lightning-fast hammer-ons whether he’s sticking to the blues scale, or working subtle shifts in timbre and rhythm during the songs’ quieter passages. He plays with a cool, watery, chorus-box tone very reminiscent of Albert Collins. Here he’s backed by an acoustic rhythm guitarist who holds it down with smooth yet prickly repetitive riffs, along with percussion, sometimes bass and a guest guitarist or two (Australian slide player Jeff Lang converses and eventually duels with him memorably on one track). The album collects several of the hottest moments of a 2009 European and Australian tour.

The midtempo opening number is a teaser, only hinting at the kind of speed Toure is capable of. As with several of the other numbers here, call-and-response is involved, this time with band members (later on he tries to get the audience to talk back to him in his own vernacular, with particularly mystified results). The slow jam that serves as the second track here is a study in dynamics and tension-building up to the ecstatic wail of the next cut.

A couple of songs here work a boisterous, reggae-tinged groove; another echoes the thoughtful, Castles Made of Sand side of Hendrix. When Toure’s taken the energy as high as anyone possibly could, sometimes he’ll stop cold and end the song there rather than doing something anticlimactic. He winds up the album with a big blazing boogie with a trick ending and then a stomp featuring a couple of characteristically paint-peeling solos along with a breakdown where the band takes it low and suspenseful until Toure is ready to wail again. If lead guitar is your thing, this is somebody you need to know – and somebody you really ought to see live. Like most of the great lead guitarists, Toure pretty much lives on the road – his next NYC gig is at Metrotech Park in Brooklyn at noon on July 29.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – I Speak Fula

‘Even if there is a war going on and it is difficult to travel, a griot, with his ngoni slung around his back, was always allowed through, because it was known that he was going to play for a leader, and perhaps act as an intermediary for political negotiations,” remarked Bassekou Kouyate recently. Where he comes from, music has a few more more important functions than mere entertainment. The Malian bandleader’s axe of choice is the ngoni, a stringed instrument commonly referred to as the ancestor of the banjo with a similar clanking tone, rapid attack and decay. He gets major props in his native land for resurrecting the instrument from obscurity, adding both new techniques as well as western influences and modern electronic guitar effects. It’s not known if he’s ever been pressed into duty as a negotiator between warring factions. On US tour with Bela Fleck starting this month promoting their somewhat defiant new album I Speak Fula, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba have come to conquer.

This is urban Malian music: spiky, circular and hypnotic in the indigenous folk tradition, but packed with imaginative licks and production touches that reveal how diverse Kouyate’s influences are, from fellow Malian Ali Farka Toure to Hendrix. It’s a mix of originals as well as new arrangements of historical ballads from over the years. What Tinariwen has done for the Tuaregs, these guys could do for what’s coming out of the cool kids’ ghetto blasters on the streets of Bamako – this stuff absolutely rocks.

The cd opens energetically with boisterous, spiraling ngoni and kora (West African harp)- throughout the album, interplay, much of it absolutely psychedelic, abounds. The first of the two most extraordinary tracks here is a tribute to Kouyate’s brother – who died while the album was being recorded – with Kouyate and Malian desert blues scion Vieux Farka Toure playing dizzying wah-wah clusters around each other. The other, Ladon, is a feast of scurrying blues runs, Kouyate showing off his bag of tricks with a big rapidfire crescendo of blues licks that could be American, or not. The band builds this to an unexpectedly explosive coda at the end: acoustic Malian heavy metal.

The closest thing to rock here is the impressively feminist Musow, fast and flurrying with wah-wah ngoni, building up to the end of the verse with a neat three-chord sequence, along with a big 6/8 ballad that could be British or Appalachian except for the language, Kouyate coming in hard against Vieux Farka Toure’s pensive, spacious guitar, nudging the guitarist to elevate his game. There’s also a swaying number that incorporates what sound like elements of both delta and Piedmont blues (or maybe not – this is where all that stuff originated, anyway), a dedication to Kouyate’s wife and bandmate/singer Amy with an intense, hypnotic jam between ngoni and Zoumana Tereta’s fiddle, and the pensive Moustafa, where the ngoni sounds almost like a vibraphone. Definitely the most exciting thing to come out of Africa since Tinariwen’s latest, last year. The album, believe it or not, is out on Sub Pop (the folks who brought you Nirvana).

February 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Samba Touré – Songhai Blues

This is an exciting album for desert blues fans fans and fans of West African music in general. Malian guitarist Samba Touré‘s obvious influence is Ali Farka Toure (no relation), with whom he toured internationally as a guitarist in the late 90s. Yet Samba Touré’s got his own, uniquely individual style. It’s more upbeat than the Tuareg music of Tinariwen and their brethren, with a light touch and considerably more speed than most desert blues players, although Samba Touré pretty much eschews chord changes. Likewise, the instrumentation on this new cd is imaginative, drawing from traditional Malian music and including sokou (traditional violin), gnoni (four-string guitar), flute, and electric bass along with a small army of percussion. What’s also notable about this release is how the interlocking layers of guitar work off each other, and how they work within the interplay of the other instruments. Desert blues is one of the world’s most psychedelic styles of music, but this really takes it to another level. The lyrics are in Touré’s native Songhai.

The opening track – a call for unity and celebration of the diversity of Malian ethnicities – is characteristically hypnotic, sokou swirling around Toure’s electric guitar. Lyrically nostalgic, the cd’s second cut is slinky, ringing, fast desert blues with flute and a gorgeous mesh of ringing guitar layers. The third track has call-and-response vocals and a bit of a crescendo, the bass and sokou rising out of the mix like a fish leaping from the surface of a lake, and it’s adrenalizing.

Some of the other numbers work a repetitive, circular riff over and over (these are long songs, most of them clocking in at six or seven minutes). A celebration of Malian identity works off a theme that will be familiar to all Ali Farka Toure fans. There’s also an insistent, clanging number that gives a shout-out at the end to Touré’s mentor, a slight departure into funk and a vivid, fullscale tribute to Ali Farka Toure that ends the album. Somewhere an icon is smiling.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Amadou & Mariam – The Magic Couple

One of the real feel-good stories of recent years, Amadou & Mariam went blind at an early age, met while he was running a music school for the blind in their native Mali, and the rest is history. Just off a national tour opening for Coldplay this summer (whom they no doubt blew off the stage), their new cd collects some of the most inspired tracks from the duo’s 1997-2002 period, available for the first time in the western world. Some of the songs take a darkly bluesy western rock song structure and imbue it with austere, hypnotic desert blues guitar and violin, American piano and organ and the couple’s understatedly warm harmonies. Others hew closer to the minimalist, otherworldly desert blues style popularized by Ali Farka Toure and Tinariwen. It’s nothing if not psychedelic. The duo sing in French as well as native dialects, taking turns on lead vocals – Mariam has a uniquely and sweetly winsome delivery; Amadou’s also an excellent singer with a contrastingly bittersweet, soulful voice. What’s most striking is that this isn’t just pop music – the songwriting is artsy and complex, with playful, imaginative, completely out-of-the-box ideas and  tinges of both Bob Marley and Pink Floyd. Some of these songs are unselfconsciously romantic; others are more philosophical or socially aware.

The cd opens with Je Pense a Toi (I’m Thinking About You), a stark bluesy minor-key love ballad with characteristically tasteful incisive desert blues guitar. Sarama (la Charmante) has the piano playing Ali Farka Toure riffs. On the insistent harmony-driven antiwar song Combattants (Soldiers), Amadou solos through a Leslie organ speaker. The reggae feel is pervasive: on C’est Comme Ca (It’s Like That), there’s a brief interlude that hints at dub, with a cool bass solo. Chantez Chantez evokes some of the faster material on Marley’s Exodus album, with a bracing Chicago style blues guitar solo straight out of the Magic Sam riffbook. There’s also a funky soul-inflected number with flute and wah-wah guitar: sixties soul as played by Jethro Tull? The desert blues numbers are uniformly excellent as well, often spiced with horns, organ and lush layers of interweaving guitar lines. With those beautiful vocals and the recent Coldplay tour, this remarkably accessible album comes out at a particularly auspicious moment in the couple’s increasingly celebrated career. Good for them.

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Tinariwen at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 4/24/09

The sold-out club was treated to a show mostly reprising the self-described “most popular African band in the world”‘s fascinating, spikily hypnotic new dvd Live in London.What was most striking about Tinariwen’s show was how lyrically-driven their songs are. There was plenty of improvisation, but most of it was carefully, patiently cached in the nooks and crannies of their intricately meandering songs: all indications to the contrary, the expat Malian Tuareg rockers are not a jam band. One can only wonder what these guys have been thinking, singing in their native Tamashek to American audiences: they could be saying “Bite me,” over and over and nobody would know the difference. Reputedly their lyrics have the same fiery and fearless, politically-charged fury as the Clash along with a generous dash of desert mysticism. As with the dvd, they opened quietly as a trio with the song Chet Boghassa, one of the guitarists holding down a steadily rhythmic one-chord pattern over which the starkest of guitar sketches could be drawn before bringing up the full six-piece contingent. Resplendent in their desert robes and shesh headcoverings, they delivered the songs methodically without much interplay with the crowd. On a few occasions, members of the band (especially the bassist, who proved to be most gregarious, and something of a ham) would make a tentative inquiry in French to see if they could connect with anyone. Not much response, and no fellow Tuaregs in the house either (their diaspora is mostly urban European).

 

As with their big inspiration Ali Farka Toure, chord changes are few and far between in Tinariwen’s music, meaning that dynamics are everything, not only volume-wise but notably in the attack and sustain of the band’s mosaic of sound. On a couple of occasions, once merely as an aside while tuning up, one of the guitarists showed off remarkably blazing speed with a handful of almost bluegrass runs up the scale. Otherwise, the group and the songs formed a cohesive whole, the bassist taking the longest solo of the night, all of twelve cascading, smartly chosen, bluesy notes to end one of the more driving numbers. The most overtly bluesy, western-influenced number, Assawt N’Chet Tamashek, was held back just a hair enough to keep it from careening into a mad stomp, the percussion echoing the bouncy edginess of the guitars. The rest of the show was a dusky clang, overtones quickly rising and then just as quickly fading as the resonance died. Their guitar sound is very 1960s, and on a single occasion one of the players quickly tossed off a tongue-in-cheek Mike Bloomfield lick, perhaps to see if anybody else would be in on the joke.

 

Hassan Hakmoun opened with a very brief, four-song set which was absolute heaven for fans of low frequencies, playing a loudly amplified sintir (Moroccan three-string bass lute) and backed only by his longtime percussionist. Playing with his thumb, Hakmoun would find a phrase and run it over and over again while the percussion crackled and sparkled above the booming atmospherics. Then he’d slap at the strings like an American funk bassist, which proved far less interesting. He’s starting a restaurant in the East Village (424 E 9th) named after his instrument, grousing about how much the local block association “just wants to see you suffer,” but apparently Sintir has won out and will be opening soon.

 

The concert’s only drawback was completely beyond control of the bands. Some moron in the far corner felt compelled to whistle at earsplitting volume whenever there was the slightest pause, or the music got quiet (this is not a Tuareg custom). We ought to amend the law to allow amnesty for those of us who might be tempted to exercise vigilante justice on fools like that.

April 27, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: The Rough Guide to Blues Revival

Every now and then we all go to a concert where the opening act blows the headliner off the stage. This is the cd equivalent of that experience. Forget for a moment that this is titled the Rough Guide to Blues Revival (a dubious concept from the get-go): what’s most exciting here is the free bonus cd by 40-year-old Malian bluesman Samba Toure, a protege of Ali Farka Toure. In a particularly smart marketing move, the compilers decided to sweeten the deal by including it in the package at no extra charge, and for fans of the desert blues pantheon (think Tinariwen, Boubacar Traore, Vieux Farka Toure et al.) it’s a treat, ten sun-baked, trance-inducing tracks of eerily snaking guitar enhanced by fiddle, bass and percussion. By comparison to his mentor (no relation), Samba Toure delivers his vocals in a low, growling style in his native dialect.

 

Stylistically, Malian desert blues most closely resembles the Mississippi hill country style with few if any chord changes, instead building dynamically with a typically hypnotic feel. To call this stuff blues is sometimes a stretch, although Ali Farka Toure was influenced by American electric guitarists, an effect that translates to a certain extent here. Here, the instruments swirl and whirl around each other, stark sheets of fiddle mingling with the staccato ring of the guitars, the occasional flight of a flute line and the ever-present, persistent eight-note beat of the percussion. One of the tracks is happy, upbeat, tersely produced Afrobeat pop; otherwise, the songs aptly evoke the “cameraderie of the cigarette,” as Tinariwen’s Ibrahim Ag Alhabib has characterized the casual but impoverished nomadic milieu, passing a single smoke around a circle of conversation. The best cut here is the last, Foda Diakaina (called an instrumental but it’s not), dizzying flute spinning around the guitar, bass eventually climbing to the heights with the rest of the band.

 

As far as the rest of the anthology goes, the selections here seem absolutely random, like the kind of cd that you find at the counter at the druggist or off-license for a fiver or less. For apparently no rhyme or reason (other than the label telling the compilers that if they want the rights to the hit, they’ll have to also take a couple of duds along with it to seal the deal), this mixes choice cuts by the Blind Boys of Alabama (You Gotta Move rearranged gospel-style), a quiet, Hendrix-inspired number by Deborah Coleman and tracks by Irma Thomas and Shemekia Copeland along with possibly well-intentioned but ultimately cold, cliched, stale stuff by baby boomer faves like Robben Ford, Eric Bibb, and Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown. There’s also some more recent material including an utterly bizarre Pipeline ripoff by CC Adcock. The cd is out now worldwide except for the UK where it will be available May 5.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tinariwen – Aman Iman: Water Is Life

It’s not often that a band lives up to its press. This time, believe the hype: Tuareg nomad rockers Tinariwen are every bit as good as the recent lovefest in the Western press would have you believe. And they deserve it: it’s something of a miracle that this band exists at all. A close-knit but diverse group of Tuareg freedom fighters driven from their traditional stomping grounds in their native Mali by a repressive regime and the encroachment of Western multinationals, they add electric instruments and a small dose of rock riffage to the ambient, chorus-driven traditional desert songs of their native culture. The result is hypnotic and very captivating. Ali Farka Toure is the obvious comparison, but Tinariwen’s material stays closer to the original source. Musicologists will have a field day with this stuff: what they play isn’t a simple chicken-or-the-egg question. When American and British rockers started stealing melodies from across the third word back in the 60s, third worlders were doing exactly the same thing, appropriating rock arrangements, motifs and instrumentation, and it’s clear that Tinariwen have done this to a certain extent. But they aren’t really a rock band: their music is world music in the best sense of the word, original songs based on ancient traditions which also draw on contemporary Malian artists like the aforementioned Ali Farka Toure and Baboucar Traore.

Chord changes aren’t a big part of Tinariwen’s music, yet their sound is as anthemic as it is trance-inducing. While a lot of the songs on this album are very danceable, they don’t bear much if any resemblance to the perennial smiley-facedness of mainstream African pop. Much of their music has a somewhat grim forebearance, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that this is music made by exiles. Their lyrics are in Tamashek, the Tuareg language.

The cd opens with Cler Achel, a slinky groove with call-and-response male/female vocals, two guitars trading off different textures (slightly distorted rhythm with resonant reverb vs. a reverb-driven lead with a lot of fast hammer-ons, providing a sitar-like effect). Very gripping. The next song Mano Dayak begins with a slow intro into a hesitation rhythm, blending electric and acoustic guitars. Eventually a choir of women enters, their voices keening eerily in the upper registers.

Matadjem Yinmixam follows, closer to Ali Farka Toure than the other songs on the album, with meandering, sputtering lead guitar over an insistent staccato rhythm. And finally a chord change (up to a fourth) at the end of the verse! It’s very anthemic as the female backing singers kick in on the chorus. The next track, Ahimana begins with a spoken word intro and then call-and-response with the women in the choir, very hypnotic in syncopated 6/8 time, the vocals just a little behind the beat. After that, the cd continues with the quiet, subdued Soixante Trois. Toumast, arguably the best song on the album brings in layers one at a time: spooky electric guitar hammer-ons, then distorted, staccato electric rhythm guitar, bass, and the drums and vocals. It’s the best song on the cd, with a nice, terse guitar solo after the first verse.

The dark, relentless Ikyadarh Dim features just acoustic guitar, percussion and a single vocal with an additional harmony voice added on the chorus. At one point someone in the band exhales audibly: out of fatigue, exhilaration, exasperation? The hip-shaking yet hypnotic Tamatant Tilay could be a big Mississippi hill country blues number, like something straight out of the T-Model Ford catalog, if it had English lyrics. Likewise, the next track, Assouf is a burning, open-tuned minor-key blues number. The cd closes with the pretty, pastoral, acoustic Izarharh Tenere, somewhat evocative of the Stones’ Moonlight Mile. All in all, a great album, absolutely one of the best of the year, something you should own if you have any sense of adventure.

Memo to Tinariwen management: get this band on the jam band tour. Haitian rockers Tabou Combo made a pile of money off of rich hippies who have nothing better to do than run all over the country with Phish, and so can these guys. Consider it a unique approach to foreign aid: it would be particularly appropriate given everything the band has been through.

December 10, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment