Tinariwen’s Desert Blues

The  best blues band in the world comes from the Sahara, not the Mississippi Delta.  WhenTinariwen’s Aman Iman: Water Is Life came out a few years ago, I found it soothing as a sirocco wind that had made its way from the Atlas Mountains to a Portofino cafe.  Imidiwan: Companions has a bit more grit to it.  The entire oasis comes out to sing in the background while the menfolk dig into these sinuous guitar lines that would make Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin reach for the axes, and scorpions skitter under palm trees.  Tuareg folks songs are a long way from Robert Johnson at the crossroads, but maybe not so far.  Maybe from Mali to the Okavango Delta is as far as it is from Chicago to Clarksville, Mississippi.  All I know is Imidiwan: Companions proves not everything that Gaddafi had his hand in turned out to be bad. (Yes, there is some limited truth to the rumor that the band formed from Muammar al-Gadaffi’s machinations against his Maliean neighbors.  It appears there really was this camp where soldiers trained, and at night they listened to desert blues around the campfire, and yeah, Tinariwen was the house band. Or so they say.) Under the sheltering sky, I can’t think of better music to listen to, and you can be sure that when Tulip Frenzy assembles its list of the 10 best albums of 2009, it won’t find ten others to push this one from the position it so richly deserves.  It might not find one.

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