Thursday, 10 January 2008

TINARIWEN: Ahimana (Oh My Soul)

I think of the Brotherhood of Breath; spirits improvising their stories through life, forced by violence into a cornered sort of exile, even if that corner is a fairly vast northerly corner of the Mali desert. And once again I think of the ethos of Toronto; Tinariwen is a group of indeterminate size according to the needs of any given song, with four guitarists who can make four guitars sound as light as anything this side of Ornette's Prime Time and that side of Broken Social Scene, and others who filter in and out, but never away.

I caught up with the Aman Iman (Water Is Life) album over Christmas and it strikes me as one of 2007's most deeply sensual albums; superb for headphone listening - and let us remember not just Zeppelin but the Saqqara Dogs and Blind Idiot Gods of the mid-eighties world who were already feeling the effect of the North African traffic - but far too pulsatile to fit into any background (it has some of the year's sexiest, as well as deepest, bass playing). Songs which are cyclical but never back into a cul-de-sac since with every revolution their fabric is slightly but crucially different; a delicacy to its rhythmic complexity which does not fade into white bread. A parallel world of blues, maybe, but then there was the Grateful Dead as well...

On David's compilation he selected the serpentine prowl of "Assouf" but I've gone for "Ahimana" as it is for me the album's most enticing and revelatory track; improvised on the spot with some of its words made up and others stretching back centuries, its guitar thrust is a compelling roundabout of cumulative stimulation. It begins with some rueful reflections on leaving Libya behind before consolidating into a call and response dialogue between man and woman (though sung by only one "lead" singer - how diminishing it is even to consider such concepts in this brightly blue context) which culminates in the "woman"'s voice complaining, or simply reflecting, on how her father is "interested in cows and female camels." A desert estampie, a lowdown yet elevated wandering Toureg rave-up; sliding like a perky red balloon up the trouser leg of provocation, and decidedly undiluted - a dance, a summary and another route towards a certain tomorrow.