While many rockers, rappers, and punks sing (or rant) about life lived on the edge, some lack any frame of reference. Take Tinariwen, a band consisting Tuareg tribespeople from the deserts of Northwestern Africa. The Tuaregs are traditionally nomadic, but some were "compelled" into involuntary military service. Tinariwen came together in refugee camps, and while their forefathers picked on lutes and played shepherds' flutes, these hep gents (and ladies) took to electrified guitars, bass, and assorted percussion to convey their brand of blues. (As their lyrics deal with subjects like exile and repression, Tinariwen's music is banned in Algeria and Mali.) And "blues" it is. While the blues (as a form) has origins in Africa, blues — specifically the folk-based styles of electric blues soloists John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins — has impacted Tinariwen mightily.
Many songs on Imidiwan: Companions have haunting, cyclic structures buoyed by wiry, sharp guitar motifs and embellished by stinging bent-notes and discreet touches of distortion. Their songs feature chant-like choruses and plaintive, dry-as-sand lead vocals with some of the melisma found in traditional Arabic and North African music. The pensive "Assuf Ag Asuff" shimmers and smolders like early hallucinogenic Pink Floyd, while "Tenhert" is a rousing highway song for a land where there are few roads. The closer "Desert Wind" is the best all-feedback track since Live/Dead's "Feedback."
When this lot sings about an itinerant lifestyle, they're not referring to nights spent in hotel rooms — but their approach, like blues, is possessed by an exultant quality, of resilience and joy despite turmoil and uncertainty. Imagine if My Bloody Valentine had grown up in Casablanca — they might've sounded like Tinariwen. Two thumbs way up. (World Village)