Conventional and Tinariwen are like oil and water. Nine albums into a majestic career they are still as vital as ever. They serve as sonic archaeologists; a conduit between the rich musical tapestry of Africa and the modern world.
Their latest adventure ‘Amandjar’ finds them recording live in Nouakchott, Mauritania, under the cover of a tent in the Western Sahara to an audience of scorpions. A camper-van has been specially re-purposed as a mobile recording studio by the group’s French production crew for the occasion – Keith Richards would no doubt approve.
‘Amandjar’ sees Tinariwen paying further homage to their nomadic forefathers by making the long arduous journey from the Moroccan Sahara themselves just to record in the area. The group rehearsed by night and travelled by day for two weeks in preparation for the recording sessions. To help them capture the flavour of the region further they have enlisted the help of vocalist Noura Mint Seymali and her husband, guitarist Jeiche Ould Chigaly.
Warren Ellis of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds adds violin, while Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))), Cass McCombs, Rodolphe Burger and Micah Nelson (Neil Young) provide guitar throughout. The additional use of such high-class musicians – some completely out of their comfort zone – serves only to heighten the sense of creative freedom on display.
The unorthodox recording process lets us closer to the true nature of the group – as if we are peering around a curtain unnoticed as they jam, free flowing and unhindered by expectations. This is Tinariwen at their purest. Dancing like nobody is watching, but scorpions. You’d be hard pushed to find a better desert disco houseband.