Tinariwen - Aman Iman (Water is Life)
This is something else. Literally. ‘Aman Iman’ (‘Water is Life’) is the third album by Tinariwen, a group of Touareg rebels based in Mali but gradually winning fans all over the world for their heady brew of rock-influenced north African rythmns. To try to give at least some reference point, I’m confident that Tinariwen feature on Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’ programme, where the more obscure world music artists are played. The band (a loose term as the players seem to drift in and out) appear to be led by lead vocalist and guitarist Ibrahim ag Alhabib; he has a craggy, soulful voice and his fluid guitar playing reminds me a little of Carlos Santana. Lyrical concerns centre around dispossession, loss, political upheaval, the nomadic life of the Touareg. The beautifully produced package has the lyrics in original tifinar, phonetic Tamashek and English, so that should cover things for most British listeners, I guess.
To a degree, words fail me. Not because I’m impressed to the point of speechlessness (nearly, actually) but because I don’t have the context, the comparative background to tell you what it’s like. A typical Tinariwen track is underpinned by a bubbling rythmn, spiralling electric guitar joins in, a male voice leads and then female backing voices colour with verve and joy. There’s still so much to unpick but opener ‘Cler Achel’, a song about Touareg wandering following the droughts of the 70s and 80s, is dizzying; if I hear a more enervating performance by a group of musicians this year, I’ll be surprised. This album has dignity, spirit, soul, intelligence, virtuosity, stature. Try ticking some of those off at your next NME Awards gig.
Cutting my usual word count by a factor of four or five makes me feel like I’m doing this mighty work a disservice but I’d hate to babble on inappropriately. Music this soulful, pure, committed makes our western mores (Ooh my girlfriend’s left me – let me tell you about my broken heart !) seem shallow, safe and indulgent.
Tinariwen tour the UK in March and April.