Tinariwen: Amatssou [Album Review]

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Wedge [2023]

In the two decades since Tinariwen emerged from their base in the African desert to tour the globe, they have got to know many renowned American country, folk, and rock musicians including Kurt Vile, Cass McCombs, Micah Nelson (son of Willie Nelson) and Jack White. The story of their ninth album, Amatssou, begins in 2021 when long time fan White invited Tinariwen to record in Nashville at his private recording studio. Due to the pandemic, Tinariwen’s plans were changed and producer Daniel Lanois (Brian Eno, U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel) and a handpicked group of American country musicians traveled to Africa to work with the band in their natural surroundings of the desert.

The change of recording direction did not alter the evolution of Tinariwen as this record is another stunning continuation of their musical journey, filled with evocative melodies, heartfelt lyrics, and an ethereal atmosphere that transports listeners to the vast landscapes of the desert. Amatssou captures the essence of Tinariwen’s signature sound, characterized by intricate guitar work, hypnotic rhythms, and soul-stirring vocals but also tastefully works in banjos, fiddles and pedal steel. The album begins with the powerful track “Kek Alghalm,” featuring a driving rhythm and compelling call-and-response vocals that immediately immerse you in Tinariwen’s world. The song sets the stage for the album, showcasing their unique ability to blend traditional Tuareg music with blues, rock, and folk elements.

Throughout Amatssou, Tinariwen delves into poignant themes calling for unity and freedom. In “Arajghiyine,” the band addresses that leisure will always be far from reach unless your homeland is liberated. The hauntingly beautiful “Anemouhagh” calls out to all the Touareg in different locations and says there is nothing better than being united while shouting out appreciation to the individual groups. The album’s musical arrangements are exquisite, showcasing the remarkable talent of each band member. The intertwining guitars create intricate melodies that weave together seamlessly, while the percussion adds depth and a rhythmic pulse that is impossible to resist. Tracks like “Iket Adjen” and “Tenere Den,” that translates to “the desert,” demonstrate Tinariwen’s ability to create intricate sonic landscapes that are both meditative and invigorating.

Where collaborations have played a significant role on Tinariwen’s previous records, Amatssou showcases a richness of their own environment and the band’s ability to connect with the world with their unique identity. The album’s production is polished, allowing each instrument and voice to shine, yet maintaining an organic and raw quality that preserves the essence of their music. It is an emotionally charged and introspective journey that resonates long after the final notes fade away.

“Kek Alghalm” / “Tenere Den” / “Anemouhagh”

Bombino / Mdou Moctar / Etran de L’Aïr

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Christopher Anthony
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