Tinariwen combine Tuareg desert blues and American country music on 'Amatssou'

Tinariwen announce their new album ‘Amatssou’, accompanied by the first single and music video for ‘Tenere Den’. The song pays homage to the Tuareg revolution in the Kel Adagh region of Mali, and the music video features bright, textured animation to articulate the poignant lyrics. ‘Amatssou’ is set for release on May 19th via Wedge. 

Throughout ‘Amatssou’, the legendary collective’s ninth studio album, Tinariwen set out to explore the shared sensibilities between their trademark desert blues and the vibrant country music of rural America. ‘Amatssou’ is Tamashek for “Beyond The Fear,” and it fits. Tinariwen have always been characterized by their fearlessness, single-handedly inventing a guitar style that has captured the world’s imagination. They call it ishumar or assouf (“nostalgia” in Tamashek). The rest of the world has come to know it as the Tuareg blues. It is music that is imbued with sorrow and longing but it’s also music to dance to, to forget our cares. 

‘Amatssou’ finds the band’s signature snaking guitar lines and hypnotic grooves seamlessly co-existing alongside banjos, fiddles and pedal steel. Tuareg nomads and cowboy drifters. Camel trains and mustang horses. The timeless horizon of the endless Sahara and the wild frontier of the Old West - several thousand miles of ocean may divide the desert blues of Tinariwen and the authentic country music of rural America but the links are as palpable as they are romantic.  

The story of ‘Amatssou’ began in 2021 when Jack White, a long-time fan of the group, invited Tinariwen to record at his private recording studio in Nashville. The band had initially planned to record with Lanois alongside a group of local country musicians, including Wes Corbett and Fats Kaplin, a regular collaborator of White’s. However, following a series of COVID and travel-related delays, Tinariwen found themselves unable to make the trip from Mali to the States. New plans were hastily drawn for Lanois to travel to Africa, but after further delays dealt by the pandemic, Tinariwen, Lanois, Corbett, and Kaplin were ultimately forced to work remotely.  

With final plans eventually in place, Tinariwen made the decision to lay the groundwork for ‘Amatssou’ in Djanet, an oasis in the desert of southern Algeria located in Tassili N’Ajjer National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its prehistoric cave art. Among the jagged rock outcrops and dramatic sandstone vistas, Tinariwen set up a makeshift studio inside a tent using borrowed equipment from the fellow Tuareg band, Imarhan.

Fortunately for Tinariwen, the integrity of ‘Amatssou’ remained completely intact through its remote recording processes, with Lanois adding deft touches from his studio in Los Angeles, Corbett and Kaplin recording their parts from Nashville, and Kabyle percussionist Amar Chaoui recording his parts in Paris. Lanois’ haunting pedal steel and crystalline production add a soaring ambience to Tinariwen’s trance-like desert blues, with Kalpin contributing pedal steel, violin and banjo to six of the ten tracks. 

For decades, Tinariwen have remained ambassadors for their people, a way of life in tune with the natural world that is under threat as never before. Though Tuareg culture is as old as that of ancient Greece or Rome, the songs of ‘Amatssou’ speak to the current and often tough reality of Tuareg life today. Unsurprisingly, there are impassioned references to Mali’s ongoing political and social turmoil. Full of poetic allegory, the lyrics call for unity and freedom. There are songs of struggle and resistance with oblique references to the recent desperate political upheavals in Mali and the increasing power of the Salafists. Tinariwen’s message has never sounded more urgent and compelling than it does on ‘Amatssou’.

Tinariwen's new album 'Amatssou' will be available may 19th. Listen to their new single 'Tenere Den' HERE. 

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