Skip to content

Desert rockers deliver sublime set

- Tinariwen - Tassili (Anti Records) Rating: 8 (out of 10) Tinariwen, the North African band of Tuareg nomads who were denied visas to perform at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival this summer, release their latest album on Anti Records this week.

- Tinariwen - Tassili (Anti Records) Rating: 8 (out of 10)

Tinariwen, the North African band of Tuareg nomads who were denied visas to perform at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival this summer, release their latest album on Anti Records this week.

Tassili, named after the desert region in southeastern Algeria where the album was made, features the band in excellent form. The music was recorded with acoustic instruments in an outdoor setting not far from the border crossing where Moammar Gadhafi's family entered Algeria earlier this week at Djanet on the run from Libyan rebels. The surrounding area has been the homebase for Kel Ajjer Tuareg for many centuries.

The members of Tinariwen met and formed a looseknit musical collective more than 20 years ago while living in exile in Libyan rebel camps. Their guerrilla origins makes for fascinating reading but also tends to scare the bejeesus out of Canadian Conservative bureaucrats in charge of deciding who gets into the country. Tinariwen weren't allowed to visit us this year even though they did manage to obtain visas in 2010 for an appearance during the Vancouver Olympiad (see an interview with Tinariwen's Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni at www.nsnews.com/entertainment).

For the most part traditional Tuareg music is created and performed by women in group settings with lots of hand-clapping and ululation. Instrumentation usually includes imzhad (one-string bowed desert lute) and percussion accompaniment depending on the type of song. Men get in on the act but in Tuareg culture historically women did most of the heavy esthetic lifting. They are matrilineal and in music matters pass things down through the mother.

We're talking about a traditonal culture here. There are of course many variations and offshoots but that's

basically how it plays out.

The boys in Tinariwen inherited this rich desert groove and plugged in their guitars. They compose new material but it is all constructed from traditional sources. The rhythms they use follow patterns that have been circulating in the desert for some time.

Tinariwen has worked with Western producers before (such as Robert Plant's buddy Justin Adams) so bringing in Ian Brennan this time doesn't phase them. Adding Western musicians to the mix is a new wrinkle but TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone (who met the band in the desert at Coachella) and the horns of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band work in seamlessly.

Over the centuries the Tuareg have developed a hypnotic campfire vibe that is both lyrical and funky. Sometimes the music can go on for a long time and it's so good you never want it to end. Tinariwen build on this tradition in everything they do.

- Boubacar Traoré - Mali Denhou (Lusafrica)

Rating: 7 (out of 10)

Veteran Malian musician Boubacar Traoré is from a different part of Northwest Africa but his guitar-based music shares some similarities with Tinariwen's sound in its desert rhythms. Anyone searching for the sources of flamenco will have to make their way through this part of the world.

Griot, Arab and American blues influences all figure in Mali Denhou's tunes. Traoré uses a Western guitar but his music is informed by the traditional 21-string kora and other West African instruments. The addition of French harmonica player Vincent Bucher gives the material even more of a pronounced country-blues feel.

jgoodman@nsnews.com