Tinariwen's new acoustic album Tassilli is a world-weary album from a band with good reason to be. Though the Saharan classic rockers have graduated to playing the world's biggest festivals, Tinariwen still have to go home and deal with the increasingly unstable mid-desert region where the Tuareg live, a place where hard-brokered peace is fraying. Things are in flux; they're not getting any younger and, as has been the case for the band's career, their membership keeps changing.
Some things, however, don't change. While younger artists like Terakaft and Bombino propose newer and more energetic Tuareg musical expressions, Tinariwen remain faithful to their enduring inspirations, according to the group's bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, singing about "daily events, nature, love and life in general in our culture. We hope for liberty and respect for all. I think anything that comes from us is just natural, we play like we live, like we've learned lessons. I think these are good ideas for the world today because it moves so quickly. This album will slow it down a bit."
Things don't slow down entirely; special guests the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Nels Cline and members of TV On The Radio add new sounds and voices. Ag Leche explains that the latter collaborations came about from meetings at Coachella. "They came to visit. It was their first time in the desert," he says. "They felt really at home with us and the music came quickly."
Tinariwen's latest North American tour began in late October following six long weeks in Europe. Touring can be tiring but Ag Leche and the band know the score. When asked if he was essentially living a dream and making decent money these days, Ag Leche pauses and says, "In the beginning it was tough. But now things are alright." Given the times, that may be the best possible answer.