Universal truths wrapped in Saharan melodies
THE Sahara is the latest part of the globe to be discovered by the world music community. The annual Festival of the Desert at Essakane near Timbuktu has become a must for discerning music aficionados. Tartit, Etran Finatawa and Tinariwen are three Tuareg groups that have gained an international audience. The members of Tinariwen have played together for more than 20 years. First as soldiers, then as a musical co- operative, they have been integral to the struggle for independence of the Tuareg or Kel Tamashek population of the Sahara region that covers parts of Mali, Niger, Libya and Algeria. Influenced by the rock music they heard on radio, their music was released on cassette and contained messages of exile, hope and liberation and as a result was sometimes proscribed for being too politically sensitive. In 2000, the eclectic French band Lojo and guitarist and producer Justin Adams, of Jah Wobble and Robert Plant fame, went to Mali to record them. The result was Radio Tisdas Sessions . A second disc, Amassakoul , followed in 2004 and by this time Tinariwen were playing at Womad festivals and touring internationally. Now they have been embraced by a major record label, given a massive publicity push and will be supporting the Rolling Stones on their latest tour. Aman Iman means water is life, and Adams’s sympathetic production and engineering by Ben Findlay give this disc a more polished sound than its predecessors.
At least five electric guitars intertwine with voices and handclaps. Twelve songs tell of their stark reality, from the desert wanderings and exile of Cler Achel and the struggles of the wars in Soixante Trois to the lingering Assouf that speaks of a longing for space: ‘‘ The world sleeps and I count the stars.’’
Although romanticised in some quarters, Tinariwen’s music from a harsh world has universal meaning.