It's hard to find any mystery in modern music these days. Styles are either done to death or neat innovations are immediately copied upon release. Which is why Tinariwen is such a good news story for fans and critics alike - they have the increasingly rare ability to catch even the most jaded listener off guard with songs both recognisable and totally foreign.
These African nomadic musicians have been producing what one could call desert blues: mixing traditional instrumentation and vocal arrangements from the Tuareg music tradition with the song dynamics of Delta blues.
The results are four albums both engaging and distant enough to warrant repeat listens: their songs are like mysterious visitors you want to know more about. With their fifth album Tassili, the group expand their tight circle to allow collaborations with western musicians. While such news could upset purists, the musicians fortunately emphasise the band's arrangements instead of musically colonising the songs. In the rolling opener Imidiwan ma Tennam, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline's washed-out guitar effects give the song an ethereal feel.
Of course, Cline is a good fit, as Wilco also shares Tinariwen's gift for subtlety. It is in the brilliant single Tenere Taqqim Tossam, however, that the decision to collaborate truly pays off. Joined by TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, the track is everything we love about Tinariwen: bluesy, rhythmic and ever so soulful.
Published: August 31, 2011 04:00 AM