What would Tinariwen, the famously implacable Tuareg guitar band, sound like if they recorded with Daniel Lanois, the man behind shimmering widescreen productions for, among others, Bob Dylan, U2, Robbie Robertson and Willie Nelson?
There are two answers. The first is: we don’t know. Plans had been laid for the Tuaregs to record with Lanois in the US and, later, for Lanois to meet the band in Africa, but these were scuppered by the pandemic. So what we have instead is a couple of tracks on which Lanois adds piano, pedal steel and an extra sprinkling of production trickery.
The result sounds very much like Tinariwen always do: an interplay of guitars, the breadth of the desert. The first of these, “Arajghiyine”, sees Ibrahim Ag Alhabib murmuring darkly about traitors while guitars weave around him and Lanois’s atmospheric keyboards hovering like mirages at
very edge of audibility. On “Jayche Atarak” the initial vamp and echoing guitar work underpin a celebration of a military confrontation with French soldiers.
This is an angry album, with enemies described as both “believers and profane”, treachery everywhere, and sand red with the blood of martyrs. Many of the band members met in military training camps in the Libyan Desert sponsored by Colonel Gaddafi. They have also been leading lights in the movement for independence in Azawad, northern Mali, which in 2012 broke into a rebellion that was then hijacked by the Islamist group Ansar Dine.
Narratives of betrayal run throughout, not always easy to untangle or place in chronology. “We fought in Israel”, sings Touhami Ag Alhassane on “Imidiwan Mahitinam”. “America, so renowned, sent air strikes that brought sadness to Libya and did it with total indifference.” Elsewhere, banjo and violin from Fats Kaplin and Wes Corbett swirl like a half-remembered ballad from the American Civil War; not perhaps, such a far-fetched reverberation.
‘Amatssou’ is released by Wedge