tue 15/10/2019

CD: Tinariwen - Elwan | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Tinariwen - Elwan

CD: Tinariwen - Elwan

The Desert Blues masters in reflective mood

Tinariwen: A hill to climb

Tinariwen are one African band you don’t dance to. It’s not that kind of music. They emerged from refugee camps, guerrilla camps and nomadic desert camps through the Eighties and Nineties, and since reaching a global audience via The Festival of The Desert, they have released eight consistently fine albums (the recent Live in Paris is particularly good).

Their music is internal, meditative, sombre, political, philosophical, poetic, and returns again and again to the long line of troubles besetting the Tuareg region of Saharan Mali, riven by Islamists – a former friend of the band ended up becoming a leader of the music-banning, culture-destroying, hand-lopping Ansar Dine, and hopes of Tuareg self-determination as far away a mirage as ever. As a further grim sign of the times, the return of the Festival of the Desert this year was cancelled at the last moment, over terrorism fears.

Theirs is a poetry declaimed over slow loping camel rhythms fired up through a mesh of guitars and bass lines, handclaps and ululations that sounds less like ecstatic release than outbursts of panic, fear, despair. Elwan (Elephants, the title referring to the various powers trampling over Tuareg culture and identity) was recorded far from home, in Joshua Tree, Paris, and the Southern Moroccan oasis of M'hamed El Ghizlane, where a beautiful hidden track featuring flutes was recorded. There are guest appearances from western musicians including Kurt Vile and Mark Lanegan, but the focus is on Tinariwen’s shifting line-up of veterans and relative newcomers. The music makes only minor changes to the Desert Blues of previous albums. It’s more spare and spectral, perhaps, and songs like "Hayati" (My Life) and "Ittus" (Our Goal), the latter featuring just the voice and guitar of one of the group’s founders, Hassan Ag Touhami, rank with their most haunting recordings.  

Tim Cumming's website @CummingTim 

Their music is internal, meditative, sombre, political, philosophical, poetic


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature


A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.