Tinariwen, the southern Sahara dwelling Tuareg freedom fighters turned musicians are now five albums down the track. The surprise of the uniqueness of their music is now but a distant memory, and the concern comes from how they could continue to evolve their form. Yet you needn’t be concerned, as they’ve stripped back to acoustic guitars and handclaps with Tassili, determined to demonstrate a change of pace.
Most obviously there’s the presence of folks like Wilco’s experimental guitarist Nels Cline, who offers a squalling guitar background to the opening piece Imidiwan Ma Tenam, or the incredible vocals of Tunde Adebimpe (TV on The Radio) on Tenere Taqhim Tossam adding a molasses soul to Tinariwen’s weary battle hardened cries. A couple of folks from New Orleans Dirty Dozen Brass Band add some low droning brass to Ya Messinagh, offering a profoundly mournful quality to the sounds offering a somehow familiar but still new feel to the music.
At first all this outside interaction feels a little forced, the equivalent of the music jumping the shark, yet the more you listen, the more the different influences really seep into the music. Both Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe (TV on The Radio) both travelled out to South Eastern Algeria where the album was recorded to participate. Their backing vocals in particular whilst feeling seamless and natural, really alter the direction that Tinariwen are moving in. They still have those driving grooves and desert blues riffs, yet the outsiders really open up new directions to travel. The music betrays the influence of their touring and exposure to numerous new genres of music, and Tassili is all the better for it. Lyrically it’s still earthy and organic, tales in and around their Saharan homeland.
The production is also incredible; so rich and articulate, you can hear the vocalists pursing their lips in absolute clarity. And the songs are typically haunting, sparse and emotional. Tinariwen made a decision with Tassili to challenge themselves to open up new dialogue with western musicians and it’s paid off handsomely without diluting their music one iota, and raising numerous possibilities for the future.