Monday, January 28, 2008

Tinariwen: Aman Iman

I first learned of Tinariwen back in 2001 at Hear Music in the Stanford Shopping Center. It was a tiny, unassuming CD boutique where you could listen to all the titles they carried before purchasing. The atmosphere was mellow, and although space was a commodity there, the selection never suffered. I mainly went there to browse their extensive International catalogue, which ran deep with African and Middle Eastern artists. If I couldn't make it out to Amoeba, this was a nice alternative.

Tinariwen's first CD had just been released, and it was a collection of sessions recorded at Radio Tisdas Studios in Kidal, Mali. I was immediately transfixed by the CD's striking cover photo of the sahra (or, sahara in English) - guess it's just the Arab in me. Regardless of the connection though, I knew I had to investigate further. What I uncovered was beyond expectation and triggered instant face-melting. This is Touareg rebel music. A swirling wind of melodies from warmly-amplified electric guitars, snaking their way from sand to speaker atop an organic bed of percussion and handclaps. The vibe was familiar and inviting, with uncompromising emotion. Track after track continued to invoke something in me - unique from songs passed. And after just a few, I had been swept away to this place without even looking back.

Now, seven years later, and with two more milestones under their belt, Tinariwen has been receiving a healthy spoonful of much deserved praise. And even under the weight of fame which they've amounted thus far, Tinariwen's music refuses to faulter. Their latest release, Aman Iman, shows the group reaching a new pinnacle of refinement and mobility within their craft. The album opens up with the infectious Cler Achel, its rolling bassline, funky guitar, handclaps, and call and response-styled vocals coaxing movement out of the stiffest of bodies. All the while, frontman Ibrahim Ag Alhabib's effortless voice always seems to hit just the right notes, transcending the Tamashek language which he uses to deliver them in.

Thereafter, the album progresses seamlessly and naturally. From the introspective re-recording of Matadjem Yinmixan to the push-pull rhythm of the sparse and entrancing Soixante Trois.

The playlist moves along speedily but not hurried, and before you know it, the closing track of Izarharh Tenere is easing its way out of the stereo with its soothing vocal-acoustic guitar interplay. Throughout the entire duration of Aman Iman, Tinariwen shines not only as a group of brilliant musicians, but as artisans of the highest calibre. When I listen to their music, I envision a simpler life where business is done with a handshake, and friendship is
solidified with a glass of mint tea.

I like mine sweet, so keep the sugar coming, fellas. Until next time...

"Sahtayn!" (Enjoy!)

Cler Achel
Mano Dayak
Matadjem Yinmixan
Soixante Trois
Imidiwan Winakalin
Awa Didjen
Ikyadarh Dim
Tamatant Tilay
Izarharh Tenere

Matadjem Yinmixan (2001 Radio Tisdas Sessions version)

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