Album Review: Tinariwen opens up a world of possibilities with ‘Elwan’


This isn’t the first time in this nation’s history we have discriminated against people based on their skin color or religion—just look at Native Americans, African Americans, Jews and Japanese Americans. Yet, in this era of knowledge available with a single click, many seem to be less tolerant than ever. As many who watched the Super Bowl can you tell you there is a majority of the country that favors inclusion rather than the exclusionary politics of those in power.

Feb. 10

Tinariwen is a group of Tuareg musicians from the Saharan Desert region of Mali. The group’s home is a conflict zone. The group consists of Muslims, though presently not from the area designated by the ban enacted by presidential fiat last week that prevented residents of seven nations from entering the United States; seemingly picked for no other reason than being predominantly Muslim and having no business interest with a Trump company.

That may change if the ban (currently on hold by a federal judge) is expanded. Tinariwen’s new album, Elwan, was recorded in the deserts of M’Hamid El Ghizlane in Morocco. This is an album that speaks to the wars back home; a home that is gone forever.

Those memories of past experiences, past lands that no longer exist as they once did, are recorded in song like so many butterflies scattering about a field of flowers. These are people who have travelled the world and fought in many of the conflicts in their home region. These are not people who sit on the sidelines and play as the war rages around them. They are participants and have the physical and mental scars to prove it.

Interpreting the lyrics is difficult. I don’t speak the language and a translation wasn’t readily available by press time. What I can speak to is the emotion, the music and the craftsmanship.

That emotion is evident in the music as these skilled musicians blend blues riffs with traditional assouf music of the Tuareg people. It’s fitting, considering that “assouf” translates to loneliness, longing or nostalgia. Led by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who is well-equipped to speak to these horrors and at 4 years old watched his father be assassinated in front of him.

The guitar work is exquisitely intricate and the collectiveness of the band is remarkable. Songs like “Ténéré Tàqqàl” exemplify the harmonious nature of the music with the deeper meaning lying behind it.

When we, as a nation, allow demagogues to inflict pain on others based on the color of their skin, their nation of origin or their religion, we spit in the face of all that beauty that lies beyond our borders. We deny ourselves the knowledge of the “other” based on scare tactics and cowardice. These beautiful people, with their stories of war-torn deserts and places since forgotten by time, bring a sound that permeates the layers of our subconscious. It stiffens the resolve of the fearful and deepens the intelligence of the listener. Elwan opens the mind to an experience other than our own. Sometimes lyrics are not needed as music tells the story of a life well-lived.

Follow editor Matt De Mello at and

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *