Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-08-30


Terakaft: 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-

Tinariwen: Tassili (Anti-, 2011) The first Saharans to break internationally are forbidding even by the sere standards of the region. But they calm rather than mesmerize, which together with some subtly shameless showmanship helps sell them to peace-out types. Having found 2009's widely praised and supposedly "traditional" Imidiwan too lulling by half, which may be because I joined the caravan before Pitchfork and Entertainment Weekly and is definitely because they should rock out a little, I was disappointed to learn that this one is where they abandon electric guitars. But since there's never been any Agadez ax-god abandon about headman Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the difference is marginal, especially given the help they've gathered on their first album for Epitaph's alt-trad label: Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone on guitar and/or vocals on five of the 12 tracks, Dirty Dozen Brass Band on a sixth. The collaborations are subtle but telling, as are Alhabib's deep melodies. Not "desert blues." Sadder than blues--too sad to be merely calming. A-

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