Areif Sless-Kitain - Time Out Chicago
For a band of desert wanderers, getting back to your roots means surrendering to your surroundings. That’s precisely what Tinariwen does on its recent “unplugged” effort, Tassili, strumming guitars around a campfire and sipping hooch. The new album captures the essence of a nomadic existence that’s kept this singular group going for more than three decades. The real question may be how anyone ever managed to plug in a Strat in the middle of the Sahara.
A remote recording location in southern Algeria couldn’t keep away members of TV on the Radio, who lent their voices to the windswept sessions, adding to an already tangible sense of camaraderie. Despite the shift to acoustic instruments, hallmarks of the Tuareg troupe’s sound remain intact—the hypnotic guitar chug and bluesy, acidic tone are as potent as ever. Dialing down the volume not only gives the songs more room to breathe, but also illuminates founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib’s scratchy voice amid the interweaving steel strings and rustling hand percussion.
Live, the Tamashek lyrics may impede sing-alongs, but the African group travels in universal themes that trenscend language barriers, rooted in race, class and geography. As folk music goes, it’s unrivaled.