Tinariwen has a story to tell, but chances are most of us won't understand what they're saying. The band, comprised of nomadic North Africans, invented its own brand of music, Tishoumaren
. Tishoumaren is the indigenous music of Tinariwen's clan, filtered through appropriated sounds of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. It is protest music -- much in the same way that reggae and folk were protest music -- whose name refers to a generation of young and enraged exiles. The music, once banned in Mali and Algeria, is strangely beautiful and pure, familiar and alien at the same time.
The Radio Tisdas Sessions is just what the name implies: recordings made at a radio station. However, the circumstances under which these recordings were made were a little more difficult than the average radio station appearance. The were only five hours long, but took two weeks to complete due to rationing of electricity.
The band itself is a septet with a posse of female background singers. Their music is reminiscent of slow-moving acoustic Delta Blues -- a distinctly pastoral sound that does not betray its serious subject matter. There are no bass guitars or drum kits or keyboards; the compositions are crafted with only gang and solo vocals, what sounds like half a dozen Telecasters and a variety of skinned drums.
The album's opener, "Les Chant Des Fauves", relies on a repeated chord for much of its seven-and-a-half minutes. The anticipated (but never coming) chord change recalls the desert expanses that Tinariwen's people, known as the Tamashek, criss-crossed for centuries, and the call and response vocal suggests a nursery rhyme-like structure, though we can be certain that these songs are infinitely more solemn. The jumpy guitar solo is played with a lilting vibrato that brightly pops and locks in a manner similar to the guitar work in other contemporary African music.
"Nar Djenetbouba" introduces another chord into the mix but follows the same formula. "Imidiwaren" may be the most bluesy-sounding cut of the collection, and touts some compelling riffing that occasionally drops out of the blues scale and into a Middle Eastern-sounding mode. The song's mournful vocal will raise hairs on the back of your neck.
The music has an overarching sense of purity that is difficult to explain -- perhaps it's a combination of the clean guitar tone, leisurely song pacing and youthful sound of the background singers' voices. Perhaps it's the mental images the music creates. Whatever the reason, you'll want to play The Radio Tisdas Sessions on the porch, in a car with the top down, or even for your kids.