Led, not to say dominated, by an impressive twentysomething singer-songwriter-guitarist named Ousmane ag Massa, this Tuareg guitar group came together at a Western-funded private school designed to protect the desert people from a Malian educational system that’s stacked against them. They’re vocal about their debt to Tinariwen, founders and leaders of their musical/political movement, but from the opening riff of their 2010 debut they don’t favor Tinariwen’s austerity. “He watches a world in movement evolving beyond him,” that song translates, and they want better than to watch. Quite often you can hear how much. B PLUS
This is the kind of second album where the group flowers rather than the kind where the group runs out of material. Read the trots and there’s an arc, budding romance through to sustaining love, with plenty of self-doubt and plenty of solidarity in between. Listen to the music and you may get similar notions, although obviously they’ll be more inchoate; I like the way troubled thoughts about alienation transition to lively celebration of a desert “full of liberty” to rousing call to fellowship to the solemn knowledge that “nothing is eternal.” My theory is that it takes a man aware of his existential doubts to commit to the desert without committing to the absolute at the same time, and that this comes out in the music. Ousmane ag Massa is here to tell the world that a little education can be a broadening thing. A MINUS
Life got even tougher for the Kel Tamashek before this album was recorded, as thugs claiming piety imposed Sharia on a nomad culture that never trucked with the sadism of Islam’s self-proclaimed ultra-orthodox. So as they fled their ancestral base in eastern Mali, these commercially ascendant, politically down youngbloods found themselves with a double set of injustices to address. And on an album whose title translates Sisters, that’s what they’ve done. They’ve done it by honoring the uncommonly woman-friendly Tuareg ethos, including the installation of Wonou Walet Sidati, a female veteran of their revered Tinariwen, as the (near) equal of Ousmane ag Massa. They’ve done it by embracing both rock drumming and West African beats. They’ve done it by upping the Third World skank and absorbing a French guitarist and telling the world that the spacey “Assikal” is their Pink Floyd song. They’ve done it by voicing their despair and living their dreams at the same time. They’ve done it the 21st-century way. A MINUS
Imarhan Timbuktu: Akal Warled (Clermont Music) Saharan trance music as the contained dance music it was born to be, with citizens of the sand who make their musical rivals sound like tourist bands getting the party started with a track that could sell a whole album of the stuff (“Aïcha Talamomt”) ***
Tamikrest: Taksera (Glitterbeat ‘15) A holding action like most Record Store Day vinyl, and not better because it’s live-er no matter what Afrofolkies want to believe (“Tisnant an Chatma,” “Outamachek”) *
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