Their sixth studio work, Emmaar is the first Tinariwen album to be recorded outside of their native North Africa. Due to continuing unrest and political instability in their native Mali the rebel fighters, who beat their swords into ploughshares as far back as the ’80s, struck camp and relocated to the States for the recording of their latest opus. But instead of heading for the bright lights of the big city, the Tuaregs set up camp in the Californian desert of the Joshua Tree National Park. A location hardly surprising for a band whose life and music are so entwined with that kind of terrain.
2013 saw fellow Tuareg desert bluesman Bombino record Nomad in Nashville. That record had a sound and feel were more infected by its host country, whereas the Tinariwan collective seem less pervious to the lure of Americana. That is not to say though that they haven’t taken some inspiration from their host nation, with hints and touches of America throughout. Opener ‘Toumast Tincha’ begins with the deep intonation of American poet Saul Williams underscored by a lap steel guitar. Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer makes a guest appearance, as does Nashville fiddler Fats Kaplin. But despite the guests, this is an album that is quintessentially a Tinaiwan recording; the slow heady desert blues build ups, the rhythm lolloping along like a camel gait, the vocals chanted over syncopated hand claps.
Emmaar will appeal to those that have already fallen under the spell of the band’s desert blues. It’s tone is darker and broodier than previous recordings – hardly surprising given the circumstances that Tinariwen find themselves in, nomads exiled from their homelands. This mood will do little to attract new fans to the tribe but us Westerners were probably never the intended audience in the first place.