Tinariwen - Amassakoul
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cd cover Tinariwen is a band of Tamashek (or Tuareg) nomads from the Sahara of northern Mali. Since the independence of that country, the Tamashek have not fared well, twice taking on the government with major rebellions. The last one ended in a peace deal in 1992. Music fans can be glad that during this time, some members of Tinariwen took refuge in Libya, where they were inspired by Bob Marley and John Lennon, and incorporated electric instrumentation into their compositions. This is Tinariwen's second CD. Their first, The Radio Tisdas Sessions, was recorded with Lo'Jo and Justin Adams of Jah Wobble.

A reviewer on the radio called Tinariwen's guitar licks a reinvention of the instrument. However, I think anyone who has listened to Ali Farka Touré will find the character of the guitar on Amassakoul familiar, especially on the eponymous first track: bluesy, but with a dryness that evokes the loneliness of the Sahel. Tinariwen is unlike Touré, though, because with over half a dozen band members, they produce a fuller sound than he. This is in part due to richer instrumentation, but it is also due to use of a greater range of guitar tones. Immediately after "Amassakoul," for example, we hear "Oualihila Ar Teninam," which develops from a vocal call and response into an uptempo blues stomp. On the next song, "Chatma," the sound once again echoes Touré, though with less of the hypnotic repetition that characterizes his music. One of the most unique songs, though, is the mesmerizing "Assoul" in which a flute threads over droning voices that at times approximate the throat music of the Siberian group Yat Kha.

For those who are familiar with Malian music, it's worth noting that Tinariwen are completely different from the Wassoulou sounds of Oumou Sangaré, the Afro-Cuban stylings of the Rail Band, or the vocal workout of griots such as Kandia Kouyaté. In most of the populous south of Mali, Ali Farka Touré gets little airplay on local radio (though he receives more attention from the national station, which is where his career really took off in the sixties). Tinariwen gets far less, despite the international attention drawn to the group by the Festival in the Desert. In other words, though it might be in the "Mali" bin in your record store, this group is something a bit different. - Craig Tower

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