Tassili - Tinariwen


When a really important band comes along with a really important album, journalists grasp at adjective, metaphor and hyperbole like so many life preservers in a vain attempt to float the idea of what makes this music stand apart. Over the course of four previous albums, the original Touareg rockers, Tinariwen have given the press ample opportunity to grapple with the weight of influence they bring to bear on global music. One scribe likens Tassili’s sound to “Robert Johnson going to Africa”. This is a misguided reference at best considering Robert Johnson’s blues came out of Africa in the first place. Yet another notable publication ponders that “while the notes and the language is strange to western ears, there’s something familiar in Tinariwen’s music”. Considering Tassili refers to Tassili N’Ajjer, a protected region of the Algerian desert into which Tinariwen retreated to compose and eventually record the acoustic-based album, the noted ‘familiarity’ may very well be the essence of music itself, hardwired into our genetic code and exposed to the elements of nature. Tassili is as roots as roots music can possibly be. Robert Plant, who knows a great deal about the music of the Sahara from his forays there with Justin Adams, offers an appropriate allusion for music conceived in such a thirsty corner of the planet. He surmises, “Listening to Tinariwen is like dropping a bucket into a deep well.” Indeed, the sounds are dredged up through millennia of strata; the emotions conjured from deep, moist places. Tinariwen’s collective began as conscripts into Moammar Gadhafi’s’s elite desert army. Rebellion in neighboring Mali and Niger fed the regional turmoil and when an accord was finally reached in ’94, Tinariwen became a unified voice, fighting for the nomadic Touareg way of life which was being exiled into extinction. NATO’s intercession into Libya’s recent revolution resulted in the awkward cancellation of Canadian performances by Tinariwen, much to the consternation of fans across the country. But, those who have been charmed under Tinariwen’s spell can take solace in Tassili’s gentle, acoustic grooves. Some interesting collaborations formed out of friendships made in America. Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone from New York explorers, TV On The Radio must have experienced a world of culture shock when they made camp in the outdoor recording environment Tinariwen had created for themselves in the middle of nowhere. It must have been a Kumbaya moment they’ll look forward to telling their grand kids. Wilco guitarist, Nels Cline also makes an appearance on Tassili, as does New Orleans’ seminal Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Subtler than its previous plugged-in works, Tassili is no less an important document in the incredible unfolding story of a global music phenomenon.