Desert music, you can’t beat it. Really. Maybe it’s because I originally hail from a climatically moderate lush-bordering-on-soggy part of the world, but I have always been a sucker for it.
Mali’s Tinariwen have long been my favourite purveyors of desertnessosity*, their sound so effortlessly exotic and familiar to me as I sit and ponder those big skies, the heat, the hardship, the cold and the companionship at night. What could be better then than a mini LP of acoustic campfire music from them? nothing, that’s what. Absolutely nothin’, say it again.
In 2014 Tinariwen had to flee their native country in the face of Islamist insurgency, branded as producing ‘Satan’s music’ they may well have faced death. One group member, Ag Lamida, was captured but then released by the regime. Their 6th LP Emmaar was recorded in and around the Joshua Tree National Park in the US. At the same time they set down 5 acoustic tracks which they later released as Inside/Outside: Joshua Tree Acoustic Sessions**.
The mini LP^ is I think a bit of an overlooked gem in Tinariwen’s back catalogue, I have never seen it in the wild, I bought it from the band direct. It features one acoustic version of a track from Emmaar and four newies and some great photography on the cover (partly by percussionist Said Ag Ayad).
Inside/Outside begins with the ‘outside’, umm, side which I choose to interpret literally as meaning it was recorded outside and ‘Adounia Ti Chidjret’, the acoustic re-recording of the LP track. It is my favourite track here and it does really benefit from the acoustic rendering.
Shorn of the original’s reverb the track immediately becomes more intimate and intricate sounding. The song’s title means ‘the world is vast’ and the wistful lyrics and atmosphere hit home hard, even without the benefit of a translation^*. The recording is just incredible, the immediacy of the vocals is increased exponentially in this take, the percussion is also foregrounded as the guitars twine, twist and snake beneath. I find this track absolutely breathtaking.
Second track ‘Imidiwan Sadjdat Tislim’ simply does not carry the same impact, which is not quite a criticism. It is perfectly good, again quite percussive but over-shadowed by it’s neighbour.
On the ‘Inside’ we have the wonderfully bluesy, slow ‘Iljaych Tareq’ a six-minute beauty. This track sways and plods with a stately evocative rhythm, just try not to think about dromedaries when listening to it – I dare ya. Pure African blues.
Next up ‘Inar Tissanam’ is a more vocal-led number, featuring some gentle call and response patterns and an alluringly off-kilter rhythm, set against some very gentle guitar heroics. Closing Inside/Outside is ‘Tiwayyen’ the most urgent track on show here, the acoustic guitars drone and buzz together and against each other, it is the most American sounding song here and I love the way it speeds up at the end.
Inside/Outside is a great listen, which is sort of the point of this music thing. The recording and the production is superb, capturing every sonic scintilla of sound, with real warmth too – stand up and take a bow Joshua V Smith and Patrick Votan. Playing Inside/Outside is like sharing a campfire under the desert night, enjoying the camaraderie of your circle of light as it grows cold and all around you, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.
*hell, their name even means ‘desert‘; it was originally ‘Kel Tinariwen’ – people of the desert.
**to save pixels, Inside/Outside from here on in.
^I do love me a mini LP!
^*courtesy of Emmaar‘s inner sleeve: ‘The world is vast and in perpetual motion / My love finds no place in it’.