Review: Tinariwen: ‘Tassili’

We’ve got to the point when everything I’d been excited about in the summer begins to arrive (also to Hungary), so here’s the earliest bird, the fifth effort by Tuareg group Tinariwen.

As it has been said in the news item dealing with the album’s release, Tassili has got more of an acoustic, natural character. Tinariwen have been known to be the masters of a style named ‘desert blues’, where electric guitars and different percussion instruments (much more subtle than drum sets) play a key role in producing a hypnotic groove above which sits the singing.

These pentatonic wonders of contemporary African music are definitely present on ‘Tassili’ as well but having this more straightforward and intimate intrumentation, the feelings these lyrics picture feel much closer. According to the booklet, most of the listeners should be grateful to Andy Morgan who provided us with the English translations of the lyrics which are about loss (‘Djeredjere’ – ‘At rock bottom’), longing (‘Iswegh Attay’ – ‘I drank some tea’, ‘Asuf D Alwa’ – ‘Longing and loneliness’), the desert’s cruelty (‘Imidiwan Win Sahara’ – ‘My friends from the Sahara’) and girls who can never make their dreams come true (‘Tiliaden Osamnat’ – ‘The girls are jealous’).

There’s no doubt that reading the lyrics helps absorb the message better, however, there is no definite need for following every syllable in the booklet, as the instruments and the really naturalistic and intriguing atmosphere give us good notion about what the songs’ message is. The acoustic parts are played with such a great taste that we almost feel ourselves sitting among the band members in the desert in Tassili’N’Ayyers desert, South Algeria, where the album was recorded outdoors.

Tinariwen once again prove that they are important ambassadors of a lifestyle and attitude not widely known or lived outside of Africa (I’d dare to say: outside their community), bringing us warm and emotional lyricism and enjoyable, yet simple and accessible instrumentation with the occassional appearance of international superstars just to make sure (TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone – both of whom guest on several songs – and Wilco’s Nels Cline who does a really subtle, yet recognizable and memorable appearance in the opening song) their songs get through.

‘Tassili’ is a truly remarkable effort that everyone – either open to other cultures or just wanting to hear serious lyrics with soothing music – should definitely have a good look at.

Tinariwen: ‘Tassili’ (2011, Wedge S.A.R.L., ANTI-)

Below is the full ‘Desert Session’ footage, a short documentary on the making of ‘Tassili’:

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