Desert Blues masters Tinariwen are perhaps the most Rock n’ Roll band there is; they are true rebels. Having actively experienced reality-affirming political situations in their home country of Mali, and recently being chased and arrested (guitar in hand) by the militant Islamist group Ansar Dine for their supposed ‘devil music’. The world (and World Music) needs bands like Tinariwen to defamiliarise things every once in a while – Emmaar is their latest attempt to do so.
The album opens with a gruff voice mumbling about the desert, wind, water and fire. Tinariwen (‘desert’ in Tamasheq) are at one with the landscape of their African home, despite the songs being recorded in Joshua Tree. Dense layers of leathery electric guitars give the sound a visceral physicality, their stormy fingerpickings adding fluidity and improvisation, as in all great jazz fusion records. Rich bass and fierce African percussion provide an incessant pulse and, since there is no drum kit, and therefore no climactic cymbal crashes, it seems there is no escape from the North African groove. This handclapped rhythm warmly swathes you, then coils and constricts like a snake. It is utterly infectious, and will make you dance in perviously unheard of ways. Before you know it, the album has flown by in a blur of desert sand and flailing limbs.
Unfortunately, description of the Emmaar’s sounds is about as far as the listener can go because it is sung entirely in their native tongue. As a result, once you have listened to one Tinariwen album, you have kind of heard them all. But this is an undeniably brilliant record. Somehow the lyrics aren’t necessary. Political reception to their music says it all. And Tinariwen’s mournful yet muscular gang vocals are inherently more moving than any sequence of words could be.