Songs for Desert Refugees (Glitterhouse Records – Reaktion / July 9 2012)
By Violeta Ruano Posada
Many had not even heard of the Touareg people, or as they call themselves, the Kel Tamashek, until the poignant voices of Tinariwen burst into the lives of music lovers around the world like a sandstorm. Today, the Touareg-led uprising in northern Mali and the consequent political and humanitarian crisis in the region have drawn international attention to this nomadic society after years of territorial and social demands. This revolution, however, has left behind more than 200,000 refugees trying to survive in improvised camps across the territory. The notion of desert refugees is, sadly, not new in the Sahara.
Songs for Desert Refugees is a compilation in aid of the refugees from northern Mali, with the aim of raising funds for the NGOs Tamoudré and Etar. It highlights the diversity of Touareg music across the southern Sahara, with 12 artists from Mali, Niger and Algeria. Starting with ‘Amous Idraout Assouf d’Alwa’, a rare gem by Tinariwen recovered from the 2006 recording sessions of their acclaimed album Aman Iman, the desert blues unfolds and develops throughout the album.
Mali’s northeast is represented by Terakaft’s ‘Nak Essanagh’, which, with its recurrent guitar patterns and call and response style, reminds one of early Tinariwen. Tamikrest and Amanar, two young bands from the region, have managed to incorporate traditional elements to their music in innovative ways. ‘Ténéré’ by Amanar starts with a guitar solo joined by a Tamashek flute, creating a very particular sound just before the percussion and voice jump in.
Touareg music’s most traditional side is represented by Tartit, from Mali’s Timbuktu region. ‘Tihou Beyatene’ is a fascinating piece in a style based on a drum called tindé, typical of the nomad camps of the open desert bush. It certainly contrasts with ‘Blues du Désert’ by Ibrahim Djo, a track with a completely different approach that incorporates traditional blues and rock elements such as the guitar distortion and the drum kit. Something similar is what young new band Tadalat does in ‘Taghdart’, although with a more recognisable Tamashek singing.
Other Touareg regions are also represented here. Franco-Nigerian group Toumast play a distinctive rocky blues, while Etran Finatwa, or ‘the stars of tradition’, made up of Touareg and Peul musicians, combine different traditional styles that result in a powerful and hypnotic nomad blues. Also hypnotic is the 13-minute long live version of ‘Tigrawahi Tikma’ by Bombino, the new rising star from Niger.
Algerian Nabi Baly Othmany presents an upbeat live version of ‘Teswa Ténéré’, recorded in the desert of Tassili des Ajjers. The rich percussion base invites to dance by a desert fire, in particular the final djembe and calabash solo. Italo-Algerian poet and guitarist Faris, joined by Terakaf on this occasion, shows in ‘Derhan Alkher’ the newest version of the Assouf style. This Tamashek word used to describe the Touareg guitar style has an approximate meaning of longing, loneliness and homesickness, words constantly used to describe the Touaregs.
All this uplifting music is wrapped up in a box with a front cover decorated by Tuareg artist Ahmed Abdoulaye Boudane and line-up notes by Touareg music expert Andy Morgan and music producer Sedryk. Many old and new names, very different styles, but all showcasing the beauty of the music from this (almost) forgotten corner of the world. Songs for Desert Refugees will inspire many to learn more about Touareg culture and music, and enjoy the desert blues as a whole.