Tag: Warren Ellis

New Audio: JOVM Mainstay Mark Lanegan Releases a Shimmering and Brooding New Single

Over the past handful of years, I’ve managed to spill a fair share of virtual ink covering acclaimed, JOVM mainstay Mark Lanegan over the years on this site. And as you may recall, the Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s 11th full-length solo album Somebody’s Knocking continued an incredible run of critically applauded releases but the album’s material found the JOVM mainstay turning to some of his most formative musical influences and profound loves — electronic music.  “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” Lanegan said in press notes at the time. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. Alain Johannes and I had actually written “Penthouse High” for Gargoyle but then it didn’t really fit on that record. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time – a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song.”

2020 will be a busy year for Lanegan: his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep will be published by Da Capo Press on April 28, 2020 — and his 12th solo album Straight Songs Of Sorrow will be released through Heavenly Recordings on May 8, 2020. Featuring guest appearances from his longtime  Greg Dulli, Warren Ellis, the legendary John Paul Jones, Ed Harcourt and countless others, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is inspired by his own life story, as documented in his memoir.

Reportedly, Sing Backwards and Weep is a brutal, nerve-shredding read, centered around Lanegan’s recounting his journey from troubled youth in Eastern Washington, through his days as a drug-fueled member of Seattle’s grunge rock scene to today with Lanegan finding peace and salvation within himself with unsparing and unadulterated candor. While the book documents his lifelong struggle to find peace within himself, his forthcoming 12th album emphasizes the extent to which he realized that music is his life.

“Writing the book, I didn’t get catharsis,” Lanegan says. “All I got was a Pandora’s box full of pain and misery. I went way in, and remembered shit I’d put away 20 years ago. But I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realized there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realized that was the gift of the book: these songs. I’m really proud of this record.”  Interestingly, in press notes, Lanegan affirms that each of Straight Songs Of Sorrow‘s 15 songs references a specific episode or person in the book — albeit, some more explicitly than others.

Whereas the previous two Mark Lanegan Band albums, 2017’s Gargoyle and the aforementioned Somebody’s Knocking found Lanegan pairing his lyrics to music written by collaborators, most of Straight Songs Of Sorrow was written by Lanegan — with the exception being the collaborations with Mark Morton. Two other songs have shared credits — and those two songs were cowritten by Lanegan’s wife Shelley Brien. But much like the book that inspired it, the album ends  with its hero overcoming adversity and struggle and turning, battered and beat up, but cleansed, towards a bright new day

So far, I’ve written about the album’s first two singles — the slow-burning, part bluesy lament, part tale of survival and redemption “Skeleton Key.” and the uptempo yet vulnerable “Bleed All Over.” The album’s third and latest single “Stockholm City Blues” is a brooding and spectral song, centered around twangy and looped guitar, a shimmering string arrangement and an achingly plaintive vocal from Lanegan. Evoking the gnawing loneliness of being a foreigner in a foreign land that you can barely understand, and of a man wandering around narrow European streets with his own thoughts and regrets, the song may arguably be one of the most sorrowful of released to date. 

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New Audio: JOVM Mainstay Mark Lanegan Releases a Brooding and Atmospheric New Single

I’ve spilled a fair share of virtual ink covering Mark Lanegan over the years on this site. And as you may recall, the Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist is known for being the frontman and founding member of Seattle-based grunge rock pioneers Screaming Trees and for a lengthy career as an acclaimed solo artist, who has collaborated with an eclectic array of artists and bands — including  Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on an unreleased Lead Belly cover/tribute album recorded before the release of Nevermind; as a member of the renowned grunge All-Star supergroup/side project Mad Season with Alice in Chains‘ Layne Staley and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready; as a member of  Queens of the Stone Age featured on five of the band’s albums — 2000’s Rated R, 2002’s Songs for the Deaf, 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze, 2007’s Era Vulgaris and 2013’s . . . Like Clockwork; with The Afghan Whigs‘ Greg Dulli in The Gutter Twins; as well as former Belle and Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell on three albums. Additionally, Lanegan has contributed or guested on albums by Melisa Auf der Maur, Martina Topley-Bird, Creature with the Atom Brain, Moby, Bomb the Bass, Soulsavers, Greg Dulli’s The Twilight Singers, UNKLE and others.

Lanegan’s 11th full-length solo album Somebody’s Knocking continued an incredible run of critically applauded releases but the album’s material found the JOVM mainstay and grunge rock legend turning to some of his most formative musical influences and profound loves — electronic music.  “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” Lanegan said in press notes at the time. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. Alain Johannes and I had actually written “Penthouse High” for Gargoyle but then it didn’t really fit on that record. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time – a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song.”

2020 looks to be a momentous year for Lanegan: Lanegan’s memoir Sing Backwards and Weep will be published by Da Capo Press on April 28, 2020 — and his 12th solo album Straight Songs Of Sorrow will be released through Heavenly Recordings on May 8, 2020. Featuring guest appearances from his longtime  Greg Dulli, Warren Ellis, the legendary John Paul Jones, Ed Harcourt and countless others, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is inspired by his own life story, as documented in his memoir.

Reportedly, Sing Backwards and Weep is a brutal, nerve-shredding read, centered around Lanegan’s unsparing and unadulterated candor recounting his journey from troubled youth in Eastern Washington, through his days as a drug-fueled member of Seattle’s grunge rock scene to today with Lanegan finding peace and salvation within himself. While the book documents his lifelong struggle to find peace within himself, his forthcoming 12th album emphasizes the extent to which he realized that music is his life.

“Writing the book, I didn’t get catharsis,” he chuckles. “All I got was a Pandora’s box full of pain and misery. I went way in, and remembered shit I’d put away 20 years ago. But I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realized there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realized that was the gift of the book: these songs. I’m really proud of this record.”  In press notes, Lanegan affirms that each of Straight Songs Of Sorrow‘s 15 songs references a specific episode or person in the book — albeit, some more explicitly than others.

Whereas the previous two Mark Lanegan Band albums, 2017’s Gargoyle and the aforementioned Somebody’s Knocking found Lanegan pairing his lyrics to music written by collaborators, most of Straight Songs Of Sorrow was written by Lanegan — with the exception being the collaborations with Mark Morton. Two other songs have shared credits — and those two songs were cowritten by Lanegan’s wife Shelley Brien. And much like the book, the album ends with its hero overcoming adversity and struggle and turning, battered and beat up, but cleansed, towards a bright new day.

Last month, I wrote about Straight Songs of Sorrow’s first single, the slow-burning part bluesy lament, part tale of survival and redemption, “Skeleton Key.” Centered around Lanegan’s increasingly Howlin’ Wolf-like baritone, which manages to convey the aching despair, hard-fought and harder-won wisdom that comes from living a messy life, full of dissolution, sin, fucked up decisions and fucked up events. “Bleed All Over,” the album’s second and latest single is a bit more uptempo track featuring rapid fire beats, a looping acoustic guitar line, shimmering synth arpeggios and one of the more plaintive and vulnerable vocal performances from Lanegan in quite some time with a subtle Western tinge. A at its core are the inescapable and lingering ghosts of our lives, the weight of our decisions and actions upon ourselves and others — and the desire to escape it all. 

New Audio: JOVM Mainstay Mark Lanegan Releases a Slow-burning and Atmospheric Blues

Over the past few years, I’ve spilled a fair share of virtual ink covering Mark Lanegan, the Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, known as the frontman and founding member of Seattle-based grunge rock pioneers Screaming Trees, and an acclaimed solo artist, who has collaborated with an eclectic array of artists and bands — including  Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on an unreleased Lead Belly cover/tribute album recorded before the release of Nevermind; as a member of the renowned grunge All-Star supergroup/side project Mad Season with Alice in Chains‘ Layne Staley and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready; as a member of  Queens of the Stone Age featured on five of the band’s albums — 2000’s Rated R, 2002’s Songs for the Deaf, 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze, 2007’s Era Vulgaris and 2013’s . . . Like Clockwork; with The Afghan Whigs‘ Greg Dulli in The Gutter Twins; as well as former Belle and Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell on three albums. Additionally, Lanegan has contributed or guested on albums by Melisa Auf der Maur, Martina Topley-Bird, Creature with the Atom Brain, Moby, Bomb the Bass, Soulsavers, Greg Dulli’s The Twilight Singers, UNKLE and others.

Last year, Lanegan released his 11th album Somebody’s Knocking. And while continuing an amazing run of critically applauded releases, the album’s material found the JOVM mainstay and grunge legend turning to some of his most formative musical influences and profound loves — electronic music.  “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” Lanegan said in press notes at the time. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. Alain Johannes and I had actually written “Penthouse High” for Gargoyle but then it didn’t really fit on that record. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time – a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song.”

Although Somebody’s Knocking came together during an 11 day session in Los Angeles, much of the album’s deepest musical influences are decidedly European, including the album’s two other writing partners Martin Jenkins, who records as Pye Corner Audio and the aforementioned Rob Marshall, who contribute some newer, murkier forms. Reportedly, Lanegan approached working with each of the album’s writing partners from the perspective and lens of a fan, vocalist, and interpreter.

2020 will be a momentous year for the JOVM mainstay and grunge rock legend: Lanegan’s memoir Sing Backwards and Weep will be published by Da Capo Press on April 28, 2020 — and his 12th solo album Straight Songs Of Sorrow will be released through Heavenly Recordings on May 8, 2020. Featuring guest appearances from his longtime Gutter Twin collaborator Greg Dulli, Warren Ellis, the legendary John Paul Jones, Ed Harcourtand countless others, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is inspired by his own life story, a documented in his memoir. 

Sing Backwards and Weep reportedly is a brutal, nerve-shredding read, centered around Lanegan’s unsparing and unadulterated candor recounting his journey from troubled youth in Eastern Washington, through his days as a drug-fueled member of Seattle’s grunge rock scene to today with Lanegan finding peace and salvation within himself. While the book documents his lifelong struggle to find peace within himself, his forthcoming 12th album emphasizes the extent to which he realized that music is his life. 

“Writing the book, I didn’t get catharsis,” he chuckles. “All I got was a Pandora’s box full of pain and misery. I went way in, and remembered shit I’d put away 20 years ago. But I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realised there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realized that was the gift of the book: these songs. I’m really proud of this record.”  In press notes, Lanegan affirms that each of Straight Songs Of Sorrow’s 15 songs references a specific episode or person in the book — albeit, some more explicitly than others. 

Whereas the previous two Mark Lanegan Band albums, 2017’s Gargoyle and the aforementioned Somebody’s Knocking found Lanegan pairing his lyrics to music written by collaborators, most of Straight Songs Of Sorrow was written by Lanegan — with the exception being the collaborations with Mark Morton. Two other songs have shared credits — and those two songs were cowritten by Lanegan’s wife Shelley Brien. And much like the book, the album ends with its hero overcoming adversity and struggle and turning, battered and beat up, but cleansed, towards a bright new day. 

Centered around atmospheric synths, strummed acoustic guitar, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is a slow-burning track that’s one part bluesy lament, one part tale of survival and redemption from life’s battered and beaten up. Interestingly, as Lanegan gets older, his vocal range inches closer to Howlin’ Wolf — a gravelly rumble that manages to convey aching despair and hard-fought and harder-won wisdom, that comes from living a messy life, full of dissolution and fuck ups. And as a result, the song may arguably the most personal song the JOVM mainstay and grunge legend had released in some time time. 

New Video: Follow Acclaimed JOVM Mainstays Tinariwen on a Cinematically Shot Journey in the Desert

I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally acclaimed Algerian Tuareg pioneers of Desert Blues and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen over the past handful of years. And as you can recall, the act can trace its origins back to the late 1970s when the band’s founding member, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (guitar) joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria. The rebels Ag Alhabib hooked up with had been influenced by radical chaabi protest music of groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Algerian pop rai, and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley  — and they started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.

Despite a series of lineup changes since their formation, the act has toured regularly across the European Union, North American, Japan and Australia, playing some fo the biggest festivals of the international touring circuit — and at some of the world’s biggest clubs and music venues. But one thing has been consistent: they’ve firmly established a sound that evokes the harsh and surreal beauty of their desert homeland, centered around the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, proud and rebellious people, whose old-fashioned way of life is rapidly disappearing as a result of increasingly technology and encroaching Westernization and globalization. And while 2017’s Elwan (which translates into English as “The Elephants”) thematically touches upon on the impact that Westernization and technology has had on the lives of their people, their exile from their homeland as  result of religious and ethnic infighting, the uncertain future of their homeland and their longing to be back in their homeland — with the tacit understanding that many within the band may never see their homeland ever again.

Slated for a September 6, 2019 release through Anti- Records, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays’ forthcoming album Amadjar reportedly is as close as listeners can get to the proverbial soul of the band as it was recorded in a natural setting. Accompanied by their French production team, who arrived in an old camper can that has been converted into a makeshift studio, the Saharan Africa JOVM mainstays’ journey to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott takes about 12 days or so. Every evening, the caravan stopped to set up camp and the band went to work under the stars to prepare for the recording sessions, talking through things, and letting their guitar motifs, thoughts and long buried songs come. Then, during a final two-week camp in the desert around Nouakchott, the band, joined by The Mauritanian griot  Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly, recorded their songs under large tent in a few live takes, without headphones or effects.

Once recorded, a host of Western musicians added additional instrumentation including the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who contributed violin; Micah Nelson, the son of the legendary Willie Nelson and a member of Neil Young‘s backing band, contributed mandolin and charango; Sunn O)))‘s Stephen O’Malley contributes guitar; Cass McCombs, who contributes guitar; and Rodophe Burger.

Lyrically and thematically, the album explores the continuing political, social, humanitarian and environmental problems faced in their home country of Mali and continues Tinariwen’s pursuit to highlight the plight and issues of their people through their music. The album continues the band’s ongoing work of highlighting the plight of the Tuareg community — from the collapse of infrastructure and public services, climate change and the ongoing political and military conflicts that have plagued their homeland since it gained independence in 1960.

Interestingly, “Kel Tinariwen” Amadjar’s latest single continues in a similar path of its predecessors as its centered around shimmering and looping acoustic guitar, call and response vocals, handclaps and drums and while the addition of a sinuous electric bass line  helps to modernize the song, the song feels as though it’s an effortless synthesis of the ancient and the modern. Thematically, the song touches upon two ancient things: the treacherousness of those power mad and greedy sorts, who will sell out their people — and a triumph of the righteous over them. Cass McCombs contributes some trippy vocals towards the song’s coda and his guitar work. 

Directed by Celidja Pornon, the recently released video for “Kel Tinariwen” is a cinematic and intimate shot visual that follows the band and their crew as they travel through the desert with their makeshift recording studio. We see tons of earthy browns and oranges, eerily beautiful landscapes, enormous and seemingly endless skies, and Van Gogh-like suns. Over the course of their journey, they stop for the night, set up camp, play dominoes, joke and chat and at night, they jam and write songs — the songs that represent the struggles and concerns of their people and of their homeland. We also get glimpses of the band performing for an ecstatic group of Tuaregs, who cheer them up and record every moment. 

New Audio: Tinariwen Releases a Gorgeous and Brooding Collaboration with Warren Ellis, Noura Mint Seymali and Jeiche Ould Chighaly

I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally acclaimed Algerian Tuareg pioneers of the Desert Blues and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen over the past couple of years. And as you may recall, the act can trace its origins back to the late 1970s when the band’s founding member, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (guitar) joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria. The rebels Ag Alhabib hooked up with had been influenced by radical chaabi protest music of groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Algerian pop rai, and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley  — and they started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.

Upon relocating to Tamanrasset, Algeria, Ag Alhabib started a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil that had played traditional Taureg music at various weddings, parties and other occasions across both Algeria and Libya. As the story goes, when the quartet had started, they didn’t have a name; but people across the region, who had seen them play had begun calling them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language (the tongue of the Taureg people) translates roughly as “The People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys.”

In 1980, Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi issued a decree inviting all young Tuareg men, who were living illegally in Libya to receive full military training, as part of his dream of forming a Saharan regiment, comprised of the best young Tuareg fighters to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger, and elsewhere across Northern Africa. Al Alhabib and his bandmates answered the call and received military training. Whether or not the founding members of the band truly believed in Gaddafi’s military ambitions would be difficult to say — but on a practical level, a steady paycheck to support yourself and your family certainly is an enticement. Five years later, Ag Alhabib, Ag Touhami and the Ag Ablil brothers answered a similar call by leaders of the Libyan Tuareg movement, who desired an autonomous homeland for their people, and wound up meeting fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (a.k.a “Japonais”), Sweiloum Ag Alhousseyni, Abouhadid Ag Alhousseyni, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni — all who had sang and played guitar. At this point, the initial lineup was completed and the members of the collective began writing songs about the issues and concerns of their people.

Then the members of the band built a makeshift studio, vowing to to record and distribute music for free to anyone, who supplied them a blank cassette tape. Within a short period of time, the band’s cassette tapes were highly sought-after and were popularly traded throughout Saharan Africa.

In 1989 the collective had left Libya and relocated to Ag Alhabib’s birthplace of Tessalit, Mali; but by the next year, Mail’s Tuareg population revolted against the Malian government — with some members of the collective participating as rebel fighters in that conflict. After the Tamanrasset Accords were reached and agreed upon in early 1991, the members of Tinariwen, who had fought in the conflict had left the military and devoted themselves to their music full-time. In R1992, some of the members of the band went to Abidjan, Ivory Coast to record a cassette at JBZ Studios, which they followed up with extensive gigs for their fellow Tuaregs across Saharan Africa, which helped furthered the reputation they had developed primarily by word-of-mouth.

A collaboration with renowned French, world music ensemble Lo’Jo helped expand the band’s profile outside Saharan Africa. They also played a live set at Africa Oye, one of the UK’s largest African music/African Diaspora festival. Building on the increasing buzz, the band released their full-length debut The Radio Tisdas Sessions, which was their first recorded effort to be released outside of Saharan Africa. Interestingly, since their formation back in the late 70s, the collective have gone through a series of lineup changes, gradually incorporating younger generations of Tuareg musicians, many who haven’t seen the military conflicts that their elders have, including bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, percussionist Said Ag Ayad, guitarist Elaga Ag Hamid, guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida, and vocalists Wonou Walet Sidati and the Walet Oumar sisters.

Despite their lineup changes, Tinariwen has become internationally known, as a result of regular touring across the European Union, North America, Japan and Australia, frequently playing some of the world’s biggest festivals and biggest music venues and clubs. But one thing has been consistent throughout — they’ve continued with a sound that evokes the harsh and surreal beauty of their homeland, centered around the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, proud and rebellious people, whose old-fashioned way of life is rapidly disappearing as a result of technology and encroaching Westernization.

Additionally, a contentious and bloody series of infighting and wars between the various religious and ethnic groups across the region have splintered several nations throughout the region — including most recently Mali and Libya, where members of Tinariwen have proudly called home at various points of the band’s history. Unsurprisingly, the band’s last full-length effort, 2017’s Elwan (which translates into English as “The Elephants”) thematically focuses on the impact of Westernization and technology has had on their people and their way of life, their exile as a result of the religious and ethnic infighting that has destroyed their homeland, their longing for their ancestral homeland, the uncertain future of their homeland — and the tacit understanding that some of the band members may never see their homeland ever again.

Slated for a September 6, 2019 release through Anti- Records, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays’ forthcoming album Amadjar, reportedly is as close as listeners can get to the proverbial soul of the band as it was recorded in a natural setting. 

Accompanied by their French production team, who arrive in an old camper can that has been converted into a makeshift studio, the Saharan Africa JOVM mainstays’ journey to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott takes about 12 days or so. Every evening, the caravan stopped to set up camp and the band went to work under the stars to prepare for the recording sessions, talking through things, and letting their guitar motifs, thoughts and long buried songs come. Then, during a final two-week camp in the desert around Nouakchott, the band, joined by The Mauritanian griotte Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly, recorded their songs under large tent in a few live takes, without headphones or effects.

Once recorded, a host of Western musicians added additional instrumentation including the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who contributed violin; Micah Nelson, the son of the legendary Willie Nelson and a member of Neil Young‘s backing band, contributed mandolin and charango; Sunn O)))‘s Stephen O’Malley contributes guitar; Cass McCombs, who contributes guitar; and Rodophe Burger.

Lyrically and thematically, the album explores the continuing political, social, humanitarian and environmental problems faced in their home country of Mali and continues Tinariwen’s pursuit to highlight the plight and issues of their people through their music. The album continues the band’s ongoing work of highlighting the plight of the Tuareg community — from the collapse of infrastructure and public services, climate change and the ongoing political and military conflicts that have plagued their homeland since it gained independence in 1960.

Amadjar’s latest single is a gorgeous yet brooding track centered around looping and shimmering acoustic guitar, explosive blasts of pedal effected electric guitar, handclap led-percussion and bursts of soaring violin. And much like its predecessor, “Taqkal Tarha,” the song is an effortless synthesis of something far more ancient and seemingly older than time with a subtly contemporary feel. I’ve seen a translated version of song’s incredibly poetic lyrics — and in translation, they indirectly evoke Revelations, The Upanishads and other religious texts, as it paints a picture of the end of the world. And yet, the song’s narrator finds himself confronted by the fact that he’s got his trusty camel and the endless road ahead. 

New Audio: JOVM Mainstays Tinariwen Team Up with Micah Nelson on a a Gorgeous and Meditative New Single

Over the past couple of years of this site’s nine year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally renowned Algerian Tuareg pioneers of Desert Blues and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen. The act can trace its origins back to the late 1970s when the band’s founding member, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (guitar) joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria. The rebels Ag Alhabib hooked up with had been influenced by radical chaabi protest music of groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Algerian pop rai, and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley  — and they started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.

Upon relocating to Tamanrasset, Algeria, Ag Alhabib started a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil that had played traditional Taureg music at various weddings, parties and other occasions across both Algeria and Libya. As the story goes, when the quartet had started, they didn’t have a name; but people across the region, who had seen them play had begun calling them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language (the tongue of the Taureg people) translates roughly as “The People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys.”

In 1980, Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi issued a decree inviting all young Tuareg men, who were living illegally in Libya to receive full military training, as part of his dream of forming a Saharan regiment, comprised of the best young Tuareg fighters to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger, and elsewhere across Northern Africa. Al Alhabib and his bandmates answered the call and received military training. Whether or not the founding members of the band truly believed in Gaddafi’s military ambitions would be difficult to say — but on a practical level, a steady paycheck to support yourself and your family certainly is an enticement. Five years later, Ag Alhabib, Ag Touhami and the Ag Ablil brothers answered a similar call by leaders of the Libyan Tuareg movement, who desired an autonomous homeland for their people, and wound up meeting fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (a.k.a “Japonais”), Sweiloum Ag Alhousseyni, Abouhadid Ag Alhousseyni, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni — all who had sang and played guitar. At this point, the initial lineup was completed and the members of the collective began writing songs about the issues and concerns of their people.

Then the members of the band built a makeshift studio, vowing to to record and distribute music for free to anyone, who supplied them a blank cassette tape. Within a short period of time, the band’s cassette tapes were highly sought-after and were popularly traded throughout Saharan Africa. 

In 1989 the collective had left Libya and relocated to Ag Alhabib’s birthplace of Tessalit, Mali; but by the next year, Mail’s Tuareg population revolted against the Malian government — with some members of the collective participating as rebel fighters in that conflict. After the Tamanrasset Accords were reached and agreed upon in early 1991, the members of Tinariwen, who had fought in the conflict had left the military and devoted themselves to their music full-time. In R1992, some of the members of the band went to Abidjan, Ivory Coast to record a cassette at JBZ Studios, which they followed up with extensive gigs for their fellow Tuaregs across Saharan Africa, which helped furthered the reputation they had developed primarily by word-of-mouth.

A collaboration with renowned French, world music ensemble Lo’Jo helped expand the band’s profile outside Saharan Africa. They also played a live set at Africa Oye, one of the UK’s largest African music/African Diaspora festival. Building on the increasing buzz, the band released their full-length debut The Radio Tisdas Sessions, which was their first recorded effort to be released outside of Saharan Africa. Interestingly, since their formation back in the late 70s, the collective have gone through a series of lineup changes, gradually incorporating younger generations of Tuareg musicians, many who haven’t seen the military conflicts that their elders have, including bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, percussionist Said Ag Ayad, guitarist Elaga Ag Hamid, guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida, and vocalists Wonou Walet Sidati and the Walet Oumar sisters.

Despite their lineup changes, Tinariwen has become internationally known, as a result of regular touring across the European Union, North America, Japan and Australia, frequently playing some of the world’s biggest festivals and biggest music venues and clubs. But one thing has been consistent throughout — they’ve continued with a sound that evokes the harsh and surreal beauty of their homeland, centered around the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, proud and rebellious people, whose old-fashioned way of life is rapidly disappearing as a result of technology and encroaching Westernization. 

Additionally, a contentious and bloody series of infighting and wars between the various religious and ethnic groups across the region have splintered several nations throughout the region — including most recently Mali and Libya, where members of Tinariwen have proudly called home at various points of the band’s history. Unsurprisingly, the band’s last full-length effort, 2017’s Elwan (which translates into English as “The Elephants”) thematically focuses on the impact of Westernization and technology has had on their people and their way of life, their exile as a result of the religious and ethnic infighting that has destroyed their homeland, their longing for their ancestral homeland, the uncertain future of their homeland — and the tacit understanding that some of the band members may never see their homeland ever again. 

Slated for a September 6, 2019 release through Anti- Records, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays’ forthcoming album Amadjar reportedly is as close as listeners can get to the proverbial soul of the band as it was recorded in a natural setting. Accompanied by their French production team, who arrive in an old camper can that has been converted into a makeshift studio, the Saharan Africa JOVM mainstays’ journey to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott takes about 12 days or so. Every evening, the caravan stopped to set up camp and the band went to work under the stars to prepare for the recording sessions, talking through things, and letting their guitar motifs, thoughts and long buried songs come. Then, during a final two-week camp in the desert around Nouakchott, the band, joined by The Mauritanian griotte Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly, recorded their songs under large tent in a few live takes, without headphones or effects.

Once recorded, a host of Western musicians added additional instrumentation including the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who contributed violin; Micah Nelson, the son of the legendary Willie Nelson and a member of Neil Young’s backing band, contributed mandolin and charango; Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley contributes guitar; Cass McCombs, who contributes guitar; and Rodophe Burger. 

Lyrically and thematically, the album explores the continuing political, social, humanitarian and environmental problems faced in their home country of Mali and continues Tinariwen’s pursuit to highlight the plight and issues of their people through their music. The album continues the band’s ongoing work of highlighting the plight of the Tuareg community — from the collapse of infrastructure and public services, climate change and the ongoing political and military conflicts that have plagued their homeland since it gained independence in 1960. 

Interestingly, Amadjar’s latest single is the gorgeous, acoustic track “Taqkal Tarha.” Centered around a shimmering and looping acoustic guitar line, a propulsive bass line, percussion that evokes a galloping horse and call and response vocals paired with Micah Nelson’s playing, the song manages to be an effortless synthesis of an ancient sound — one that’s older than time itself, with something far more contemporary (albeit subtly so).