Saharan Intersections

Etran Finatawa -   Desert Crossroads
Etran Finatawa – Desert Crossroads
Etran Finatawa

Desert Crossroads (Riverboat Records, 2008)

As world music fans, you might have noticed something in the air or perhaps a subtle shift in the wind. It was scent of the Sahel grasslands mixed with a warm Saharan wind. It was the sounds of the Wodaabe/Tuareg band Etran Finatawa and their second CD titled Desert Crossroads. You should expect it to ride in the wind on April 21st outside the US and for US fans on April 22nd. Released on Riverboat Records, Desert Crossroads is a curious blend of nostalgia for the disappearing lifestyle or the Wodaabe and Tuareg tribes and a love song sung to the traditions of these nomadic peoples.Blazing across the music scene in 2006 for their first CD Introducing Etran Finatawa, which won a coveted BBC Award, and an extensive touring schedule that took them to Europe, Australia, Singapore and Australia, the six members of Etran Finatawa have finally settled in Niamey, Niger. Seeing their respective tribes now at a crossroads where worries over lost traditions and ways of living, the members of Etran Finatawa have recorded their second CD devoted to the changes that face their people and a message to the developed world of what it really means to be rich.

Filled with a kaleidescope of colors, Etran Finatawa moves through tea ceremony songs, Wodaabe healing songs, devotional songs about mothers and grandmothers, songs about the changing landscape and songs about the importance of remembering the past and keeping alive rich traditions. While not the stuff you’d find in a Mississippi juke joint, Desert Crossroads is all about the blues – North African blues – and these brothers surely have earned their chops. Creating a sound overflowing with hypnotic Tuareg rhythms, achingly elegant Wodaabe vocals, electric guitar and intense percussion, the members of the group have built a sound that is vibrant and earthy.

Meaty, robust tracks like "Kel Tamasheck," "Iguefan" and "Tekana" are prized pieces full of bluesy guitar, trance-inspiring rhythms and beguiling vocals. Tracks like "Jama’aare" unfold like a sacred chant to call the winds. Particular favorites of mine are "Soto" with its lilting rhythm and almost lonely vocals, ""Naanaaye" with its understated beginning that finally blossoms with reoccurring flute and simple hand clapping rhythms and "Tea Ceremony II" with a voice threaded through a rich rhythm.

Etran Finatawa is made up of lead vocalist and guitarist Ghalitane Khamidoune; bass, rhythm and lead guitarist Alhousseini Mohamed Anivolla; Bagui Bouga on calabash, odilirou flute, doudandou and backup vocals; Mamane Tankari on azakalabo and backup vocals; Zaid Ag Abdoul Jamid on tende and backup vocals and Bammo Agonla on akayaure, vocals and hand claps.

The music of Etran Finatawa is utterly captivating, but knowing the precarious road that the Tuareg and Wodaabe tribes must travel in order to preserve their cultures makes the music preciously fragile. We are fortunate that these musicians opened a path to the heart of the Tuareg desert and Wodaabe grassland. 

Buy Etran Finatawa‘s CDs:

Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.