On Tinariwen’s third album, everything comes together with so much more bite and urgency than on their previous recordings. Producer Justin Adams must take a good share of the credit. There’s an epic weight to the sound, the voices sounding commanding as well as spaced out by all that Saharan sun. The powerful opening track, ‘Cler Achel’, is a statement of intent: the song explodes every time the chorus of female vocals kicks in, a joyous response to the more nonchalant but no less potent singing of Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Tinariwen’s founder member. There’s a decisive thrust to the rhythms and a real dirtiness to those squirming electric guitar lines. The intensity never lets up; on ‘Matadjem Yinmixan’, Alhabib’s chiming lead guitar sounds like a West African counterpart to the exploratory rock soloing of Richard Lloyd of Television or Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.
Indeed, this album is a real treat for guitar fans: the ghost of Jimi Hendrix is summoned via the wonderfully surly wah-wah-pedal of the brooding ‘Assouf’. The slow-burning ‘Ahimana’ has a wonderfully throaty vocal from long-standing member Japonais, and a groove possessing all the purpose of a ritual. But the album has its tender moments too. The all-acoustic ‘Ikyardagh Dim’ has the feel of a deep-desert nocturnal jams and shows the band at its most bluesy: if you have ever wondered why the words ‘desert blues’ are routinely trotted out to describe the music of the Sahel, this will leave you in no doubt.