In 2017, Reader critic Peter Margasak noted Tinariwen’s recurring practice of featuring rock musicians as guests on their records. Their new album, Amatssou, doesn’t change that approach, but it perfects it. Originally, the long-running ensemble of Tuareg musicians (also known as Kel Tamasheq, meaning speakers of Tamasheq) intended to make the album at Jack White’s private studio in Nashville, but COVID issues scotched that plan. Instead, recording took place on three continents. From one record or tour to the next, Tinariwen reconfigure their lineup around the core of singer-guitarists Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Touhami Ag Alhassane, and Abdallah Ag Alhouseyni, and for Amatssou a six-member edition of the band laid down tracks in a temporary studio set up in a tent at an Algerian oasis. Percussionist Amar Chaoui added hand drums in Paris, country-and-western session veterans Wes Corbett and Fats Kaplin contributed from Nashville, and producer Daniel Lanois—who’s also worked with Brian Eno, Bob Dylan, and Emmylou Harris—added final touches in Los Angeles.
The cantering banjo, swooping pedal steel, and Lanois’s trademark ambience complement the songs without overwhelming their bluesy vibe. The production draws out layers of percussion—hand claps, calabashes, dumbeks—to provide a more detailed rhythmic foundation for Tinariwen’s weaving, open-ended guitars and assertively conversational bass lines. But their songs, sung in Tamasheq, continue to address Tinariwen’s eternal theme of cultural survival. During the band’s lifetime, the Tuareg people have faced off against the Malian and Nigerien governments, climate change, and most recently, Islamist insurgents from abroad and nearby. The anthemic “Anemouhagh” calls out for pan-Tuareg unity, while “Iket Adjen” recounts the confusion and distrust that must be overcome for such a unification to take place. This Old Town School of Folk Music show opens the band’s eight-date American tour. It’s sold out, but you can sign up on the venue’s site to join the waiting list for any tickets that become available before showtime.
Tinariwen 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, Maurer Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln, sold out, all ages