By MIKEL TOOMBS
“Is Tinariwen the greatest band on earth?”
The online magazine Slate posed that question a couple years back, and the latest release by the band from the southern Sahara Desert (Tinariwen means “deserts” or “empty spaces” in the Tamashek language) adds more evidence for the affirmative position. (The Slate headline? “Enter Sandmen.”)
“Imidiwan: Companions” (World Village), which arrived here in October, brings the “desert rebel rockers,” whose hypnotic, bluesy music had entranced the likes of Carlos Santana and Robert Plant (“I felt this was the music I’d been looking for all my life”), back to their Touareg roots.
Now, when most musicians talk of returning to their “roots,” it’s a musical, perhaps spiritual, quest. Here, Tinariwen actually revisits Tessalit, an oasis in the poverty-stricken and uprising-prone region (the nomadic Touareg were once recruited by Libyan strongman Gaddafi) of the band’s native Mali, to let the mournful, blueslike sounds of assul seep further into its music.
In a league with Ry Cooder’s most ambitious musical journeys (coming in two weeks is the album “San Patricio,” where Cooder teams with Ireland’s legendary Chieftains to tell the story of Irish-Americans who fought on the Mexican side in the Mexican-American War), the fascinating “Imidiwan: Companions” CD is accompanied by a low-key half-hour documentary on DVD, which is very much of a piece with Cooder’s “Paris, Texas” soundtrack.
In Seattle, Tinariwen performs two shows Tuesday (Feb. 23) at The Triple Door, at 7 p.m. (all ages) and 9:30 p.m. (21 and up). Tickets are $25; 206-838-4333.
Watch a video of Carlos Santana and Tinariwen:
And here’s a scratchy video of Robert Plant and Tinariwen performing “Whole Lotta Love,” but it’s worth a look: