Tinariwen – Emaar Album Review “Where is the Red, White, and Blue?”

 By: Kat Comic Uno

In
2013 Islamic militants banned all music in Mali, Africa. Many of the artists
were threatened and instruments were burned. These extremists had gone to the
extent of kidnapping one of the guitarists from the band Tinariwen. During all
of this turmoil Tinariwen was ready to produce their new album Emmaar. With political tensions rising and
increasing danger to the artists in Mali the band realized they could not record
in their homeland. It was extremely important to them that they maintain an
environment that would reflect the desert roots of their music. The nomadic
band discovered an acceptable area in Joshua Tree National Park in California. They
went on to work on their album in this new home.
            Emmaar
is Tinariwen’s first album produced in the United States. In addition to their
group the album featured several American artists ranging from hip-hop artist
Saul Williams to lead guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers Josh Klinghoffer. Given
the location in the United States and the addition of the American artists the
question arises as to what extent would the influence of the red, white, and
blue be evident in this traditional Malian album?
            The band was literally on the run from
the repression in Mali and found refuge in America. Emmaar showcases the band’s anxiety with their situation in its fast
rhythm and chanting. If there was a thought that there would be some opening to
the American music fans with some English lyrics, that was not to be the case. Tinariwen’s
whole album is recorded in their native language. Americans will not be able to
understand the poetic message the band is trying to send because the lyrics are
not in English.
            Instead as an American you would
need to learn about the Tuareg culture by listening to rhythms and cadence of
the music in Emmaar. The band is from
the Sahara and this desert landscape deeply influences most of their music.
Tuareg are nomadic people and they are used to moving from place to place. They
come from a long tradition of never settling down in one area. The decision to move
to America was probably less traumatic due to their traditions of constantly
being prepared to move, making a difficult transition easier to them than most.
            The reason Tinariwen settled in
Joshua Tree National Park in California was because of the recognizable desert
land. It made them feel at home. Naturally the desert land had a big influence
on Emmaar. On every track of the
album the vocals are very rugged. The combination of the rugged vocals and
rhythmic instrumentals depict the savage nature of the desert lands of
Thinariwen’s homeland. The chanting and drums cause the listener to feel that
they are on the move. This album creates a sense that allows them to feel the
Tinariwen’s nomadic nature.
            The music video for “Toumast Tincha”
is four minutes of different desert settings as a man travels through these
different landscapes. This is the first track of the album and prepares the
listener for what they can expect for the rest of the album. The full album tends
to reflect the same tone and thus can seem somewhat repetitive. Without an understanding
of the lyrics the repetitiveness can be a limiting factor for Emmaar.
            In a typical album there is usually
some variability in each track producing some uniqueness to each component.
This is generally true of the music even as well as the lyrics. Each song in
Emmaar seems to blend together so as to sound like one long track. The music
does not produce a recognizable uniqueness to each
individual song. Perhaps the lyrics produce this uniqueness in their message
but we are at a disadvantage not being able to understand them.    
            The Tuareg people can relate to this
album. They understand the landscape and the nomadic lifestyle and culture that
Tinariwen is trying to capture in this album. An American audience might not so
easily sense the mood and background that the album tries to convey and
relating to the album would likely require some understanding of the history.
It leaves open the question as to how broadly this music will fit in American
music scene.
             I do not see the average music fan listening
to this on a daily basis. For commuters that listen to music on their way to
work/school this may be a good album to start your day. Listening to this album
creates some comfort in moving. It is comfortable when you want to get to your
next destination quickly. 
             I am not confident that this album will
attract a large American audience. It doesn’t contribute to American’s relating
to the Tuareg culture. The melody and rhythm will probably attract some small
groups of strong fans and I can see these songs as background music in
television shows like Homeland and Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad has many desert scenes as it takes place in New Mexico
and this music can be a complementary background. Likewise the music would fit
well with the Middle East theme of Homeland,
particularly for the many desert scenes. 
            Though it may be difficult for the
average American listener to appreciate the album, many will get a sense of the
struggles of the Tuareg people from the distinct rhythm. The rugged desolate
tone and the the anxiety the group exhibits in the album will have an appeal to
many. To the extent that it can convey its message it will highlight the plight
of Tinariwen. The fact that it had to run to a far off land to express its
creative art and that it had to escape the political unrest in Mali may help to
place a spot light on the tragic efforts to destroy artistic freedom in areas
of Africa and elsewhere. Finally a group is allowed to express that tension in its
music.  

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One Thought to “Tinariwen – Emaar Album Review “Where is the Red, White, and Blue?””

  1. Anonymous

    Wow. At first I was happy that you guys are starting to review music but this a serious issue and kudos to you to bringing it forward. It surely must feel incredible to finally be able to express yourself when a group of people have been compressing them for so long. It's cool that you found a connection to the music by watching a popular American show like Homeland and ya calm rythmic music would be a great way to kill time between long commutes in the morning. Well done Comic Uno and I hope to continue to see the bridging of music and media covered more in the future by Comic Frontline.

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