Home Read Albums Of The Week: Tinariwen | Amatssou

Albums Of The Week: Tinariwen | Amatssou

Super-producer Daniel Lanois, multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin and other guests add Wetern roots to the Tuareg nomads' latest set of serpentine, hypnotic desert blues.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Some people have commented that Tinariwen have always been a country band — albeit a North African take on that most North American of genres. That idea is magnified on new album Amatssou, which finds the Tuareg band’s trademark snaking guitar lines and hypnotic rhythms blending seamlessly with pedal steel, piano and strings from guest musicians including Daniel Lanois, the embellished arrangements lending the songs an epic, universal application.

Full of poetic allegory, the lyrics call for unity and freedom. There are songs of struggle and resistance with oblique references to the recent desperate political upheavals in Mali and the increasing power of the Salafists. “Dear brothers all rest, all leisure will always be far from reach unless your homeland is liberated and all the elders can live there in dignity,” Ibrahim Ag Alhabib sings on Arajghiyine. The album’s title Amatssou is Tamashek for ‘beyond fear’ and it fits. Tinariwen have always been characterised by their fearlessness. And as Bob Dylan once said, the power of rock ’n’ roll is that it makes us “oblivious to the fear” as the music gives us the strength and resilience to confront adversity.

In the two decades since Tinariwen emerged from their base in the African desert to tour the globe, they have got to know many renowned country, folk, and rock musicians from the U.S., including Kurt Vile, Stephen O’Malley, Jack White and Wilco. Tuareg nomads and cowboy drifters. Camel trains and mustang horses. The timeless horizon of the endless Sahara and the wild frontier of the Old West — several thousand miles of ocean may divide the desert blues of Tinariwen and the authentic country music of rural America but the links are as palpable as they are romantic.

Tinariwen, composed of founding members Alhabib, Touhami Ag Alhassane and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, plus bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, percussionist Said Ag Ayad and guitarist Elaga Ag Hamid, singlehandedly invented a guitar style that has captured the worldʼs imagination. They call it ishumar or assouf (“nostalgia” in Tamashek), but the rest of the world has come to know it as the Tuareg or desert blues. It is music that is imbued with sorrow and longing but itʼs also music to dance to, to forget our cares.

Throughout Amatssou, the bandʼs ninth studio album, they set out to explore the shared sensibilities between their trademark desert blues and the vibrant country music of rural America. It was recorded in Djanet, an oasis in the desert of southern Algeria located in Tassili NʼAjjer National Park, with additional production by Daniel Lanois (Brian Eno, U2, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson).

For decades, Tinariwen have remained ambassadors for the Tuareg people, a way of life in tune with the natural world, which is under threat as never before. Though Tuareg culture is as old as that of ancient Greece or Rome, the songs of Amatssou speak to the current and often tough reality of Tuareg life today. Unsurprisingly, there are impassioned references to Maliʼs ongoing political and social turmoil. Tinariwenʼs message has never sounded more urgent and compelling than it does on Amatssou.”