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Tinariwen - Imidiwan: Companions

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Artist: Tinariwen

Album: Imidiwan: Companions

Label: World Village

Review date: Oct. 21, 2009

The Toureg people (kel Tamashek in their own language) are nomads. In the old days they urged their camels through the wild landscape of the Sahel that drapes around the shoulders of northwest Africa, farming a bit, hunting a bit, raising animals, and fighting off the more settled Africans, the Arabs, the French. Today, although some still follow the old ways, many Tamashek shuttle between the urban areas of Mali, Niger, Algeria and Libya.

Many Tamashek in exile found their voice in the 1960s and ’70s in the members of Tinariwen (“Desert”), a band born from the internal struggles of post-colonial Africa between nomadic and settled peoples. They first became known outside that community after headlining the first Festival in the Desert in Mali in 2001, and their first album, The Radio Tisdas Sessions followed quickly after. Since that time, the members of Tinariwen have become global nomads, playing live concerts on every continent except Antarctica, releasing two more albums, and gathering awards as a world music act.

For their new album, Imidiwan, however, the band returns to its roots, heading back to the Sahel with producer Jean-Paul Romann and filmmaker Jessy Nottola. The results are quietly remarkable. Between the 14 tracks on the CD and the 30-minute film, Tinariwen casually demonstrate talent and creativity in songs grounded in the struggles of everyday life, but modestly, without flash. Leader, singer and guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib sings so quietly that he almost thinks the lyrics into the microphone, the film footage showing a similar economy of movement in his guitar work; even the ululations of the backup singers on cuts such as “Lulla” are understated, floating in the background of interlocking guitars, interlocking handclaps, percussion and vocals. “Lulla” embodies the classic Tinariwen sound, built from layers of ostinati that shift between three-feel and four-feel in traditional Tamashek rhythms, but studded with guitar scratching and backed with a drumkit.

“Tenhert,” on the other hand, has a simpler, square beat, bluesy guitar, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni’s rapidly spit-out treatment of a poem by Mohammed Assori Ahmed in honor of a brave and beautiful woman. The blues element is even stronger in “Enseqi ehad didagh” (“I Lie Down Tonight”), a slow (Niger) Delta blues, complete with slide guitar solo.

Much more stirring is “Imazeghen n Adagh” (“Tamashek of the Adagh”), a call to arms by guitarist and guerilla fighter Abdallah Ag Lamida. The song begins with Abdallah’s voice, paralleled by his guitar, and slowly grows louder, stronger, and more insistent as voices, guitars, bass and drums join in, Abdallah enjoining his compatriots to “Wake up! Rise up and show yourselves!” The album ends with an atmospheric solo by Ibrahim on guitar, a lovely ambient improvisation that provides a fitting end to the disc.

One final word about the video by Jessy Nottola: This is not a concert film, although there is plenty of performance footage. Rather, it’s more of a documentary, with the musicians talking about their music and their lives, interspersed with footage of rehearsals, recordings and performances, as well as artsy presentations of the landscape of Mali. It is well shot, well edited, and well worth viewing, but we never see an entire song.

By Richard Miller

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