Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Aratan N Azawad [World Village, 2011] A-
  • Alone (Ténéré) [Out Here, 2015] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Aratan N Azawad [World Village, 2011]
Of all the Saharan musicians to surface in the past decade--more than any American could have figured, and more than any non-Saharan has much practical use for--this three-man Tinariwen spinoff are the catchiest and most hypnotic. Stay with them a few hours and their every tune will stake a claim as both your trusted companion and the music's reason for being. Stated solo and then reprised in chorus, each is repeated by Diara or Sanou's no-nonsense guitar, supported by Abdallah's trickier bass, and nicely embellished by fourth-wheel French percussionist Matthias Vaguenez. Sanou sings roughly, Diara sweetly, but ample translations revisit the familiar concerns of the once-nomadic Tuaregs: "freedom" and cultural unity to counteract the displacements of African nationalism. It's the music of wise elders, and of restless men economically dependent on a skill that would have meant less to them in better times they still yearn for. A-

Alone (Ténéré) [Out Here, 2015]
Terakaft are a livelier Tinariwen spinoff/breakaway featuring grooveful guitarist Diara and two spry nephews. Like all Tuareg musicians, they were exiled by the Islamist takeover of northern Mali, when, as several cryptic translations suggest, so many friends became enemies. Which may explain why this album doesn't manage quite the lift of 2011's Aratan N Azawad even with production input from Afropop good guy Justin Adams. Under the circumstances, lift's a lot to ask. But it is what they broke away for. B+