Tinariwen’s Desert Blues, a Force of Nature

Tinariwen -  Imidiwan: Companions
Tinariwen – Imidiwan: Companions
Tinariwen

Imidiwan: Companions (World Village)

The desert blues men and women of Tinariwen are back with their latest CD Imidiwan: Companions, set for release October 13 on the World Village label. Imidiwan also offers listeners a stunning look at the musicians and the recording of the CD with a DVD film by filmmaker Jessy Nottola. With shots of Mali’s landscape, interviews and music recordings, this DVD offers up a priceless behind-the-scenes look into the workings of Tinariwen.

Staying true to their desert rock/blues sound, Imidiwan pulses with lithe, intertwined guitar lines, earthy vocals and rolling rhythms of the group’s Tuareg roots. The members of Tinariwen took up the reins of the recording of Imidiwan by convincing producer Jean-Paul Romann to travel with them to the Malian village of Tessalit to record in a rented house and out in the bush. The resulting sound is alternatively fiery and poignant.

Brewed and steeped as the ubiquitous offered glass of tea, the music of Imidiwan reflects the pace of life in Tessalit, the rich landscape of land and sky, as well as the enduring traditions and fierceness of the Tuareg soul.

Capturing the songs sung around campfires about the precarious fate facing the Tuareg and the ravages wrought by the struggle for independence, Tinariwen blazes a sound that is part juke joint sadness, part African-reggae groove and part gritty back street rock band sound. Opening with the the folksy, reverential "Imidiwan Afrik Temdam," founder, leader and lead guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib lulls the listener with his sorrowful lyrics.

The track "Tenhert," written by the group’s Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, is downright incendiary with its kick ass guitar licks by Mr. Alhousseyni, Liya Ag Abil, Eyadou Ag Leche and Elaga Ag Hamid, who also plays bass, and brightly dashed back up singing by Wonou Walet Sidati and Fatma. But it is Mr. Alhousseyni’s dazzling vocals and rap-like delivery on the track’s spoken section, backed by a low-slung bass line and hand clapping, that turns this into a standout track.

The artfully soulful sound created on "Enseqi Ehad Didagh," written by Mr. Alhabib, along with his other offerings "Tenalle Chegret" and "Chabiba," a song written for the Tuareg youth, possess an almost haunted quality that’s hard to resist wrapped around a backdrop of woven guitar lines and threaded with shimmering backup vocals.

Another standout track includes the poetry of guitarist and vocalist Mohammed Ag Itale and his offering "Tamodjerazt Assis." With lyrics the "I lived beyond the news of the world, I wasted everything," Mr. Itale digs deep and comes up with a soul-wrenching look at regret.

Beyond the simply spectacular music, Imidiwan‘s lyrics are preciously personal and often sharply edgy. Mr. Alhabib warns "Don’t even try to engrave the traces on a stone," against the open sky sound on "Assuf Ag Assuf."

Imidiwan: Companions is spectacular desert blues, ripe with enough sky to see the stars and close enough to feel the warm Saharan wind. With razor-sharp soulfulness, Imidiwan is its own force of nature.

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