While some musicians sing of a restless, somewhat rootless lifestyle, others live it more literally. Tinariwen is a collective of musicians from the Sahara Desert — they are Tuareg, a nomadic people spread largely throughout Niger, Algeria, Libya, and Mali. As might be expected, Tinariwen’s approach has been impacted by assorted musical influences — West African folk styles, Arab pop (such as rai), and Western rock: Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, and Santana.
Like some of Tinariwen’s other recordings, Emmaar, the group’s sixth album, was recorded in the desert, but this time it was in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. A few guests appear: Nashville fiddler Fats Kaplin and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer — but Tinariwen hasn’t “Americanized” its sound. All its usual aspects are in place — rough-hewn call-and-response vocals; cyclic song-structures; steady, clacking percussion; throbbing bass; and those guitars — harmoniously clanging, dissonantly buzzing, with a hint of Western twang and blues-like sustaining of notes, lines snaking around each other, the melodies rich with that modal, minor-key quality common to traditional Middle Eastern music. “Sendad Eghlalan” has the weary, loping drive of a John Lee Hooker blues tune, the ominous tension of a Spaghetti Western new-gun-in-town theme, and a sighing, vaguely country-like guitar refrain. “Chaghaybou” is as linear and insistent as anything by the early Ramones or Clash, and it’s punctuated with some concise, snarling Eastern-facing six-string solos. Moody yet lively, hypnotic and rockin,’ Emmaar is truly “world music.” (Anti-/Epitaph)