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CD Review: Tinariwen – Imidiwan: Companions

Their finest album. Over the past almost thirty years, Malian Tuareg desert rockers Tinariwen have pushed the envelope, taking their hypnotic, trance-inducing duskcore sounds around the world. This is their most diverse, their catchiest and most memorable cd yet, a triumph of determined, contemplative guitar, methodically swaying rhythms and vividly aphoristic lyricism (sung in Tamashek, their native tongue). All of the songs here share Tinariwen’s trademark resolute, sometimes mantra-like insistence, many of them inflected with an Ali Farka Toure-style bare-bones desert blues vibe. Yet this is also their most ambitious effort: it’s their most accessible, most straight-up rock-oriented album so far. The opening track, like most of the others written by the band’s often inscrutable leader Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, works a ridiculously catchy riff that would be perfectly at home on a Clash album. Except that it’s about half the speed the Clash would have played it at, Alhabib ruefully examining the state of a revolution whose leaders have run dry: they can’t keep the trees growing.

Another tune, a battle anthem, kicks off with echoes of Hendrix: but it’s the pensive, thoughtful Little Wing Hendrix, not the madman of Machine Gun. A traveling song slinks along with contrasting layers of male and female voices (there are ten fulltime members in the band, but as this album was recorded on the band’s home turf in Mali, they had plenty of friends available to join the fun). A rousing call for Tuareg unity gives bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, the band’s most overtly aggressive player, the chance to go up the scale and add some striking crescendos within the song’s characteristically static, resolute structure. There’s also a strikingly warm, almost pop song with a 60s soul feel, a haunting, pulsing number whose eerie descending progression evokes early Pink Floyd or even Bauhaus, and the fiery Ere Tasfata Adouna (He Who Values Life) that wraps up the songs, guitars finally cutting loose and ringing out in a hailstorm of overtones, jangle and clang. The album concludes with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek drone instrumental a la the early Grateful Dead, Alhabib playfully toying with his amp for as many subtle feedback effects as he can find. As psychedelic music goes, this is unsurpassed. It ought to win an even wider audience for the self-described “world’s most popular African band,” and for those who’ve already discovered them, it’s a must-own.

An especially valuable plus here is a complete lyric sheet with English translations. As another bonus, the cd includes a thirty-minute DVD film by Jessy Nottola, an understatedly shot mis-en-scene featuring clips of the band in their milieu along with songs from several of their recent albums. Which makes this one a considerable bargain.

October 26, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment