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Tinariwen - Aman Iman

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Artist: Tinariwen

Album: Aman Iman

Label: World Music Network

Review date: Apr. 4, 2007

The title translates to “Water Is Life,” and where Tinariwen comes from that’s incontrovertible truth. They live in Kidal, Mali, and they are Touareg, descendants of nomads who navigated the Sahara’s caravan routes long before Mohammed’s words rolled like a tidal wave across the desert, and have kept their culture distinct and viable to this day. The boundaries drawn in post-colonial years haven’t made life easy for the Touareg (who call themselves Tamashek) and they have found themselves at war with several countries including Mali.

Tinariwen’s members first met each other during the ’70s and ’80s in guerilla training camps sponsored by Muammar Qaddafi; they’re a band in a sense of the word that predates rock and roll by centuries. They’re also one hell of a rock and roll band. Their percussive grooves could only be conceived by someone familiar with the pitch and yaw of riding on the back of a camel, but their main instruments are voices and guitars, and they sure know how to use them.

The four men who take the mic on this record sing in their own tongue about exile and defiance, unity and cultural collapse, and each sings for his people as well as himself. On “Ahimana,” Mohammed At Itlale (a long-time member who doesn’t tour with the band) begins with a letter to his mother about how life has been since he left Libya and ends with a lament from the point of view of a lovelorn young woman; a massed chorus throws his words back at him, as though the whole village is taking their measure and committing them to memory. The picking is fairly similar to Ali Farka Toure’s, but even less rushed, more tangled (there are usually four guitars on stage, but reportedly the rest of the clan can pitch in when they’re home), and harder rocking. They’re also less blues-like than Toure’s, instead hewing to rhythms rooted in the massed hand-claps on several numbers.

Producer Justin Adams has done a good job of capturing the vibe with an acceptable level of sonic hygiene; his added details, mostly various forms of echo, never distract from it. He does keep the songs a fair bit shorter than they tend to be in concert, but even so they flow without beginnings and ends – like water, or life.

By Bill Meyer

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