Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Tinariwen – Imdiwanin ahi Tifhamam

Inspired by the Saharan storm that rolled in to dust Great Britain last week, we stick with the desert blues. Tinariwen’s newest studio album provides the music this week and the Hub are happy to see that Glastonbury festival have confirmed Tinariwen as an act at this year’s festival.

It was suggested in an earlier post that much of North American blues can owe its origins to the musicians of North Africa. But what of another great American genre: Country and Western? Now, if it is possible to a trace this back to Mali it would be quite a scoop as it is generally assumed that country music’s origins are based in Irish folk, particularly owing to the central role played by the fiddle. Other instruments central to the genre originate in other migrant populations – the Spanish guitar for example.  However one instrument, the banjo, is particularly distinctive and unique to Country music. According to this source, “the banjo, as we can begin to recognize it, was made by African slaves based on instruments that were indigenous to their parts of Africa”. Indeed, variants of the banjo have existed for centuries through-out Southern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and across the Middle- and Far-East; yet their origins appear to all come back to Africa.

So, some of the instruments most strongly associated with Country and Western originated from North Africa but that’s not quite enough to claim that the genre itself originated there. Listening closely to the many great examples of Malian blues allows us to ponder the link but that is all. But then in steps fiddle-playing New Yorker Fats Kaplin of Dead Reckoning Records who appears with Tinariwen on this week’s Track of the Week. Kaplin’s fiddle work merges into the familiar Tinariwen set-up with the greatest of ease, in fact it is barely noticeable as a cross-genre collaboration till about half-way through. It should be obvious. Interstingly, the cover picture for the new album ‘Emmaar’ – on reflection – is a typically Western scene: in the foreground is a ranch with the band with horses flashing past whilst behind them a cactus-studded frontier stretches far off into the distance, eventually merging into dry unforgiving hills. In fact, it is difficult to deduce whether the photo is of the Wild West or of the Sahel.

Perhaps that’s the point.

Tinariwen – Imdiwanin ahi Tifhamam

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