When Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, one of the members of Tinariwen, sings about learning how to use other weapons than those our ancestors bequeathed to us, he is likely referring to geopolitics and the struggles in the Sahara and Sahel. In matters of musical culture, too, this acclaimed group of Tuareg musicians has adopted new weapons, electric guitars and amplifiers and more. In many ways, they remain apart from the Western world in this respect too, a theme expounded upon in the song “Timadrit in Sahara,” as the musical weapons they use have been discarded in favour of other forms. Still, he suggests, they are awakening and poised to catch up in a hurry.
That, anyway, is one possible interpretation of what the band is trying to address with its music. On the face of it the subject matter is somewhat standard pop-music fodder — love, abandonment, good times. Then, too, there are the anthemic political tunes and protest songs. The addition of Western guest musicians like Fats Kaplin and others, including a recitation by the poet Saul Williams, adds some interesting nuances to the recording. Beyond that, Tinariwen doesn’t depart from its distinctive North African desert blues style. Emmaar, the seventh release by this band, will reinforce its reputation as a capable, somewhat otherworldly-sounding, guitar band.
By Bruce Pollock