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Tinariwen Aman Iman: Water Is Life Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

As ‘difficult’ third albums go, this disc by the guitar-toting desert blues rebels...

Jon Lusk 2007

As ‘difficult’ third albums go, this disc by the guitar-toting desert blues rebels sounds pretty damn effortless. Happily, producer and long term associate Justin Adams hasn’t fixed what isn’t broken, although there’s an extra layer or two of guitars and a more expansive sound, which should pull in a wider audience. Tinariwen are still riding those rolling traditional Touareg grooves, decorated with disarmingly simple lead riffs and counter-riffs, backed by overlapping meshes of chopping rhythm guitars, hand claps and ululating choruses. Their pentatonic scales will instantly give any delta blues fan the goosebumps, and they make no secret of their ‘Western’ influences – Hendrix, Robert Plant et al. – who all drew on similar sources.

Like its predecessor Amassakoul, Aman Iman successfully balances the upbeat with the plaintive, and density of sound with sparseness – although nothing is without the wonderful trademark desert drone. To the newcomer, the fact that there are four lead vocalists won’t be immediately obvious, as all have similar registers. But while Ibrahim Ag Alhabib delivers seven of the twelve tracks, it’s Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni who wrote and sings the loping early highlight “Mano Dayak” – the sort of thing Adams probably wishes he’d penned. In his atmospheric sleeve notes, the producer graphically recalls how Mohammed Ag Itlale ‘Japonais’ rejoined the group with “Ahimana”, a piece of spontaneous music-making typical of the way this band work as a fluid musical extended family. You can even hear the fire crackling and somebody’s mobile (?) going off during the opening acoustic guitar strums of Ibrahim’s lovely, trancey “Ikyadarh Dim”. The slinky wah-wah guitar funk of “Assouf” is how Sly Stone might have sounded if he’d had a stint in an Algerian refugee camp, lost a relative in a recent war and sung in Tamashek.

As with most contemporary albums, there are perhaps one or two too many tracks, but as a unified piece of work, Aman Iman sounds like an early highlight of 2007. It’s gratifying that, like their compatriot and kindred spirit, the late great Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen haven’t deserted their desert home of Adrar des Iforas, and the music they make still evocatively reflects their love of it. A move to Paris or even the Malian capital Bamako – where this was recorded – would surely diminish what makes them special.

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