Some people have commented that Tinariwen have always been a country band, albeit a North African take on that most North American of genres. That idea is magnified on new album Amatssou, which finds the Tuareg band’s trademark snaking guitar lines and hypnotic rhythms blending seamlessly with pedal steel, piano and strings from guest musicians including Daniel Lanois, the embellished arrangements lending the songs an epic, universal application.
Full of poetic allegory, the lyrics call for unity and freedom. There are songs of struggle and resistance with oblique references to the recent desperate political upheavals in Mali and the increasing power of the Salafists. “Dear brothers all rest, all leisure will always be far from reach unless your homeland is liberated and all the elders can live there in dignity,” Ibrahim Ag Alhabib sings on ‘Arajghiyine.’ The album’s title Amatssou is Tamashek for ‘Beyond The Fear’ and it fits - Tinariwen have always been characterised by their fearlessness - and as Bob Dylan once said, the power of rock’n’roll is that it makes us “oblivious to the fear” as the music gives us the strength and resilience to confront adversity.
In the two decades since Tinariwen emerged from their base in the African desert to tour the globe, they have got to know many renowned country, folk, and rock musicians from the USA including Kurt Vile, Stephen O'Malley, Jack White, and Wilco. Tuareg nomads and cowboy drifters. Camel trains and mustang horses. The timeless horizon of the endless Sahara and the wild frontier of the Old West - several thousand miles of ocean may divide the desert blues of Tinariwen and the authentic country music of rural America but the links are as palpable as they are romantic.