Organic desert psychedelic stew
There are a lot of bands that would like to wear the mantle of the oppressed. For most, the burden is the inability to find real persecution. If you are Tinariwen, that’s not a problem. At times fleeing for their lives, the band has often struggled to find solid ground on which to play. Formed in Northern Mali, in 1979 (that’s right, 1979) the rotating ensemble has produced some of the finest rhythms and melodies in the following decades.
Western ears might not understand the music of Amadjar on first listening. The language and scales are probably beyond the reach of many music fans. However, those that understand, or at least try, can perhaps grasp the beauty of the 13 tracks within. Elwan and Emmaar, Tinariwen’s preceding albums, are a bit more angular in that they don’t soften the edges of songs like “Madjam Mahilkamen.” The gentle acoustic verve and lyric are truly sublime. Organic is a term that is thrown around too often; it fits well here.
There is a sharp, electric guitar and a serious harmonization on “Tinawen.” A baritone lead contrasts the great backing vocals. “Friends, be honest, don’t be disloyal. You have a common destiny.” These are not lightly spoken words. All the songs are winners, even if there isn’t a tremendous variation between tracks. Providing interesting differences in musical focus is a bevy of featured artists, including Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds violinist, Warren Ellis, Stephen O’Malley and Cass McCombs. Though not obvious choices as collaborators, they find a way to seamlessly mesh with the core band members and expand the sonic collage, especially on album standouts “Tenere Maloulat” and “Zawal.”
Combined with exquisite music, the individual songs have incredible strength and are often paired with serious lyrics. “Wartilla” is rather intense. The picked-out guitar licks are traded for the strings. It’s an interesting salvo. Some of the further tunes are increasingly impressive and the harmonies and rhythms are beyond basic riffs. There is an emotional resonance in the tracks, and that is the power of Tinariwen’s sound.
Tinariwen is one of the best bands in recent memory and Amadjar is their latest in a string of triumphs. Some of their songs are similar to albums past, but they aren’t lacking in originality. Every track has its own unique aspects. Decades from now, Tinariwen will be recognized as one of the all-time great bands and important contributors to the world music scene. Amadjar will be seen as another great entry in their catalog; it is an incredible album.