By: Kat Comic Uno
In 2013 Islamic militants banned all music in Mali, Africa. Many of the artists were threatened and instruments were burned. These extremists had gone to the extent of kidnapping one of the guitarists from the band Tinariwen. During all of this turmoil Tinariwen was ready to produce their new album Emmaar. With political tensions rising and increasing danger to the artists in Mali the band realized they could not record in their homeland. It was extremely important to them that they maintain an environment that would reflect the desert roots of their music. The nomadic band discovered an acceptable area in Joshua Tree National Park in California. They went on to work on their album in this new home.
Emmaar is Tinariwen’s first album produced in the United States. In addition to their group the album featured several American artists ranging from hip-hop artist Saul Williams to lead guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers Josh Klinghoffer. Given the location in the United States and the addition of the American artists the question arises as to what extent would the influence of the red, white, and blue be evident in this traditional Malian album?
The band was literally on the run from the repression in Mali and found refuge in America. Emmaar showcases the band’s anxiety with their situation in its fast rhythm and chanting. If there was a thought that there would be some opening to the American music fans with some English lyrics, that was not to be the case. Tinariwen’s whole album is recorded in their native language. Americans will not be able to understand the poetic message the band is trying to send because the lyrics are not in English.
Instead as an American you would need to learn about the Tuareg culture by listening to rhythms and cadence of the music in Emmaar. The band is from the Sahara and this desert landscape deeply influences most of their music. Tuareg are nomadic people and they are used to moving from place to place. They come from a long tradition of never settling down in one area. The decision to move to America was probably less traumatic due to their traditions of constantly being prepared to move, making a difficult transition easier to them than most.
The reason Tinariwen settled in Joshua Tree National Park in California was because of the recognizable desert land. It made them feel at home. Naturally the desert land had a big influence on Emmaar. On every track of the album the vocals are very rugged. The combination of the rugged vocals and rhythmic instrumentals depict the savage nature of the desert lands of Thinariwen’s homeland. The chanting and drums cause the listener to feel that they are on the move. This album creates a sense that allows them to feel the Tinariwen’s nomadic nature.
The music video for “Toumast Tincha” is four minutes of different desert settings as a man travels through these different landscapes. This is the first track of the album and prepares the listener for what they can expect for the rest of the album. The full album tends to reflect the same tone and thus can seem somewhat repetitive. Without an understanding of the lyrics the repetitiveness can be a limiting factor for Emmaar.
In a typical album there is usually some variability in each track producing some uniqueness to each component. This is generally true of the music even as well as the lyrics. Each song in Emmaar seems to blend together so as to sound like one long track. The music does not produce a recognizable uniqueness to each individual song. Perhaps the lyrics produce this uniqueness in their message but we are at a disadvantage not being able to understand them.
The Tuareg people can relate to this album. They understand the landscape and the nomadic lifestyle and culture that Tinariwen is trying to capture in this album. An American audience might not so easily sense the mood and background that the album tries to convey and relating to the album would likely require some understanding of the history. It leaves open the question as to how broadly this music will fit in American music scene.
I do not see the average music fan listening to this on a daily basis. For commuters that listen to music on their way to work/school this may be a good album to start your day. Listening to this album creates some comfort in moving. It is comfortable when you want to get to your next destination quickly.
I am not confident that this album will attract a large American audience. It doesn’t contribute to American’s relating to the Tuareg culture. The melody and rhythm will probably attract some small groups of strong fans and I can see these songs as background music in television shows like Homeland and Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad has many desert scenes as it takes place in New Mexico and this music can be a complementary background. Likewise the music would fit well with the Middle East theme of Homeland, particularly for the many desert scenes.
Though it may be difficult for the average American listener to appreciate the album, many will get a sense of the struggles of the Tuareg people from the distinct rhythm. The rugged desolate tone and the the anxiety the group exhibits in the album will have an appeal to many. To the extent that it can convey its message it will highlight the plight of Tinariwen. The fact that it had to run to a far off land to express its creative art and that it had to escape the political unrest in Mali may help to place a spot light on the tragic efforts to destroy artistic freedom in areas of Africa and elsewhere. Finally a group is allowed to express that tension in its music.