Tinariwen: Imidiwan: Companions
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Imidiwan: Companions
World Village (www.worldvillagemusic.com)

It's safe to say that renowned Tuareg guitar band Tinariwen have arrived. They've toured worldwide, been championed by Western pop stars like Robert Plant and Carlos Santana and had their compelling story as freedom-fighters-turned-musicians told in numerous publications. Just as importantly, they record and put out albums at a steady pace that doesn't keep their audience waiting or wondering. Their first international release, 2002's The Radio Tisdas Sessions, was a landmark of Saharan trance blues recorded in the desert and brimming with raw, simmering power as a result. Amassakoul, the 2004 follow-up, contained some excellent tracks but in retrospect seems like too much progress too soon, with a few of the studio-polished songs aiming for ambience rather than the gut. The group got their groove fully going on 2007's Aman Iman (Water is Life), which was produced (as Tinariwen's debut had been) by Justin Adams, the British guitarist from Robert Plant's band who's also kept one foot in Africa through his Desert Road album and collaborations with Gambian griot Juldeh Camara. Aman Iman restored the melancholy grit of The Radio Tisdas Sessions and enriched the Tinariwen sound with heavier guitar interplay plus a more aggressive attack that rocked as much as it swayed.

What remained constant through the first three discs was Tinariwen's storytelling perspective: emerging musical stars though they were, they retained and drew inspiration from their history as a dispossessed minority within North Africa's Berber culture.

The band's latest, Imidiwan:Companions, recorded in a temporary studio in the Saharan oasis village of Tessalit and some of the surrounding wilderness, has Aman Iman's same brooding power while recalling the best aspects of what gave Tinariwen's first album the spontaneous feel of a field recording at times. On this go-around it's producer Jean-Paul Romann at the helm, and he uses the experience of having engineered some early Tinariwen recordings to his advantage and the band's, resulting in disc that sounds like the creative juices were simply allowed to flow and captured in the best way possible. The opening "Imidiwan Afrik Tedam," a call to the oppressed throughout Africa, is as a fine a song as Tinariwen's ever done- a pensive, weary, beautiful piece that shows their jagged guitars, jittery percussion and spellbound vocals at their best. It's a glorious start and many a high point follows, including some rapid-fire vocal testimony on "Tenhert," squeaky riffing that gives "Enseqi Ehad Didagh" a rustic grace, the alternately stuttering and steady groove of "Intitlayaghen" and the way "Ere Tasfata" picks up the pace and rocks home. And thanks to some full-voiced ladies reportedly brought to the studio late one night by guitarist/singer Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, several tracks feature the strongest female backup vocals yet heard on a Tinariwen album. Indeed, the songs are so sonically engaging that you might forget to have a look at the lyrics, which show how strongly these powerful and poetic tales are informed by the realities of Tamashek life, the isolation of the desert, lingering ills resulting from war and progress yet to be made.

I'd call this Tinariwen's best to date in spite of the entirely disposable final track "Desert Wind," a four-minute drone aiming for atmosphere which the preceding music accomplishes far better. There's also a bonus DVD that tells the story behind the music in effective if sometimes meandering words and images. It's good, but if you want an even better documentary on Tinariwen, go with the bonus features on their Live in London DVD. - Tom Orr

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cd cover

"Imidiwan Afrik Tedam"


CD available from cdRoots

Download at iTunes

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