Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Tinariwen reviewed

| October 21, 2009

Imidiwan: Companions
(World Village)

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Tinariwen are exactly the sort of guitar band who you feel could break Joe America’s skittishness toward “world” music, yet stand in their own way. The title of their fourth album translates to “companions,” which suggests an unfortunate, one-world Benetton pretense. If people only stayed to find out what’s meant by “one world.”

Heck, mentioning that Robert Plant and Bono are big fans is as much of a diss as a boon, just something for those fans to abide while begging for “Where The Streets Have No Name” a gazillionth time. But Tinariwen are slowly beginning to make headway — thanks somewhat to the rise of West African guitar playing in modern rock — by being insularly aggressive and sounding completely original. Granted, their desert rock (the members are former nomads; Tinariwen is the Tuareg/Tamashek word for “the deserts”) bears the hallmarks of Muslim chant though the dirty tones of their amplifiers picks up every gritty snap and pop, with elliptical, otherworldly licks enveloping your ears like a suffocating sandstorm.

And that’s not all.

Formed in the late ’70s, Tinariwen never set out to achieve fame but consolidate scattered, nomadic folk songs and incorporate their politics. Tribalism is still very real in West Saharan Africa, and Tinariwen’s people aren’t high on the list of priorities for those who govern Mali, Algeria, and Libya. So there’s an agitated resistance underlying Imidiwan, which begins by asking if the end of oppression and the onset of revolution are near. “Where there is a coward, find him among the men/With your eyes, let him know how little you respect him,” commands “Tenhert,” while “Tamodjerazt Assis” reads like something a Taureg Ian MacKaye would have penned for a bizarro Minor Threat. “Tahult In” is performed like an Arab Strap song, without any allusions to drunken, Glasgow weekends, and “Tenalle Chegret” gets to the heart without embellishment: “I’m ready to die, my rifle and I.”


— Steve Forstneger


Category: Spins, Weekly

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