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

Jay Daniel, Broken Knowz (2016)

Jay Daniel, the Michigan-born electronic musician/drummer/DJ, humbly pays respect to the early Detroit artists that paved the way, and brings something new to the table with his first full length LP, Broken Knowz (Ninja Tune, 2016).

Daniel’s latest release, Broken Knowz is at times many things– a resonant soundscape, a syncopated sojourn, and a cacophony of global percussion working both in and around genre lines. Broken Knowz urges the listener to redefine what house music should be and how it should sound. But it lacks a necessary cohesion.

Raised in Detroit by his mother, the famous house vocalist Naomi Daniel, Jay Daniel was exposed to the world of electronic music at an early age. But not until moving to Maryland with his father did he discover his passion for drumming.

Daniel effortlessly interweaves funk rhythms, diverse driving percussion, clean production, and rich synth tones, into Broken Knowz, with live drums to boot. Yet the album reads more like a compilation of songs, with each track strikingly different from the last. While this does give Daniel leeway to experiment in different forms throughout the record, it also makes it hard to pin down thematically.

“Paradise Valley” evokes a sense of jazz-inspired dreaminess, nursed by modulated Rhodes chords, a subdued bassline, and a simple but persistent rim-tapped clave pattern. “Niiko” brings the percussion to the forefront, with booming low-end bass drum hits and precision timed go-go bells, almost give the feeling of a fire-side ceremonial dance.

Broken Knowz is a solid addition to the ever-expanding, eclectic collection of Detroit house music, this will not be the last we hear of Jay Daniel.

Stand Out Tracks: “Paradise Valley”, “Niiko”, “Squeaky Maya”, “Boolin”, “Yemaya”

FFO: Shigeto, Bibio, Project Pablo, Bonobo