Until recently, Tinariwen was associated with just one image: that of Touareg rebels leading the charge, machine gun in hand and electric guitar slung over the shoulder. The band ditcedh this cliché on their fifth album Tassili and it’s for the best. The founding members abandoned their weapons long ago and on this new album they have engineered a minor aesthetic revolution by setting the electric guitar – the instrument which became their mascot and made them famous – to one side and giving pride of place to acoustic sounds, recorded right in the heart of the desert, which is the landscape of their existence, the cradle of their culture and the source of their inspiration. You might even call this radical move a return to the very essence of their art, a return which, paradoxically, has also opened the doors to some intriguing collaborations with members of TV On The Radio, Nels Cline (Wilco’s guitarist) or The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
There was a time when Bob Marley and the Wailers lived a certain paradox, albeit on a different scale, to the one that was to greet Tinariwen: that of singing about the distress of their people whilst becoming global stars in the process. For it was in the embers of this social trauma that Tinariwen caught fire and went global. The group became a professional unit that toured the world, headlining various important festivals including the Eurockéennes de Belfort in France, Glastonbury in the UK and Coachella in the US. Their albums Aman Iman (2007) and Imidiwan (2009) were eulogized by the media and attracted the praises of Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Thom Yorke, Brian Eno or Carlos Santana, with whom Tinariwen performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006.
In the natural open space in southern Algeria it was decided to approach the recording sessions in an unorthodox manner and let the musicians give their inspiration free rein during seemingly endless sessions around the campfire. It took three weeks to gather all the songs on Tassili. During the last week of recordings Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone from TV On The Radio arrived at the camp. The two bands had been forging links ever since they met at the Coachella Festival in California back in 2009, links which were consolidated at Tinariwen’s Hollywood Bowl gig in Los Angeles a year later when Kyp and Tunde were invited on stage with the band. The contributions of the two musicians on five songs and later additions by guitarist Nels Cline and the horns of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, recorded in their manor in New Orleans, give Tassili the intriguing character of an album which reaches deep into the essence of Tinariwen’s art whilst simultaneously opening itself out to the wider world.
Tassili isn’t just an extraordinary musical moment, in which Tinariwen repossess their own art to the extent that they feel completely relaxed about inviting others into their world, it’s also a shared human experience of rare quality.
US TOUR DATES:
9/12 @ Stateside at the Paramount – Austin, TX
9/13 @ White Oak Music Hall – Houston, TX
9/14 @ Canton Hall – Dallas, TX
9/16 @ Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA
9/17 @ The Ramkat – Winston-salem, NC
9/18 @ Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, NC
9/19 @ Lincoln Theatre – Washington, DC
9/20 @ Royale – Boston, MA
9/21 @ The Studio at Webster Hall – New York, NY
9/22 @ Fresh Grass Festival – North Adams, MA
9/23 @ Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA
9/26 @ Imperial Bell – Quebec, Canada
9/27 @ Metropolis – Montreal, Canada
9/28 @ The Danforth Music Hall – Toronto, Canada
9/30 @ The Crofoot – Pontiac, MI
Tinariwen in the Press:
Tinariwen: Tiny Desk Concert (NPR)
Tinariwen: Spreading the Saharan blues wherever it roams (LA Times)
Despite longevity, Tinariwen still a mysterious wonder (Chicago Sun Times)
Review: Tinariwen at the Troc (Philly.com)
Tinariwen, Sophie Hunger (Chicago Reader)
Live: Tinariwen Get Down To Business At Webster Hall (The Village Voice)
Live Review: Tinariwen at Minneapolis’ Cedar Cultural Center (11/26) (Consequence of Sound)
Quick spin: ‘Tassili,’ by Tinariwen (The Washington Post)
Indie Rock Embraces an African Invasion (New York Times)
Tinariwen Live at KCRW on Morning Becomes Eclectic (KCRW)
Blues From the Desert, Recorded On-Site (New York Times)
First Listen: Tinariwen, ‘Tassili’ (NPR)