Tinariwen, “Elwan” (2017)

If there’s one thing Tinariwen know how to do, it’s create a mind-bending groove with equally potent lyrics, and in their latest release, Elwan, they do just that.

Tinariwen (plural of ténéré, “desert”)  is a Tuareg-Berber group from the Saharan Desert region of Mali who blend traditional music stylings with radical contemporary politics. They play Tichumaren, a traditional African blues genre deeply rooted in the political situation of the Taureg people after colonial powers left North Africa.

Elwan evokes powerful imagery throughout. Sometimes in the form of slow, haunting tracks such as “Ittus,” which feature just voice and guitar, where one can almost feel the unyielding heat of the desolate Sahara Desert. While other tracks such as “Sastanàqqàm” and Tiwàyyen” push the tempo and incorporate a driving tindé drum beat, meaty bassline, and hypnotic guitar riffs.

Tinariwen’s lyrics, perhaps more accurately described as “sung poetry” demand the listener’s complete attention, even if they don’t understand Tamashek. From the reverberated chantings of “Ténéré Tàqqàl” that ponder how “The ténéré has become an upland of thorns/Where elephants (elwan) fight each other / Crushing tender grass / underfoot.”

Tinariwen are masters of conveying emotion and concocting groove, however with track lengths ranging from only three to five minutes it’s hard to get “lost” in the grooves Tinariwen so mesmerizingly forge. A longer album with longer tracks would better suit Tinariwen’s style.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Sastanàqqàm”, “Ittus”, “Ténéré Tàqqàl”, “Assàwt”, “Nànnuflày”FFO:

Ali Farka Touré, Terakaft, Boubacar Traoré