Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 25: Tinariwen, "Oualahila Ar Teninam"

Artist: Tinariwen
Song: "Oualahila Ar Teninam"
Album: Amassakoul
Year: 2004

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Though it is often only explored within the confines of the countries that produce pop music, the "power" of music to advocate for change is something that can be seen across every style from everywhere in the world.  While in many cases the song itself seems harmless, as soon as "the powers that be" take a stand against it, it highlights this idea, and it is often these songs and groups that become icons of their respective nations.  In many cases, these songs cross into other countries where people are in similar situations, and this is especially true within the African continent.  Looking across the entire history of music, one would be hard pressed to find a group with more "street cred" and more staunch opposition than the amazing music of the nomadic group, Tinariwen.  Formed in 1979 in the northern part of Mali, at one point the group were all members of the military training camps of Muammar al-Gaddafi, as they had been displaced from their homes by their native governments.  Truth be told, the groups' name translates into "empty places," and the music of Tinariwen speaks directly to those in similar positions.  From building their own instruments to becoming one of the most popular acts across the continent, Tinariwen finally became accessible to the world with the release of their fantastic 2004 album, Amassakoul.  Filled with brilliant hybrids of traditional African sounds and rock influences, there are few recordings that better define the group than their song, "Oualahila Ar Teninam."

Though the music itself may not seem so strong, the fact of the matter is, ONLY audiences outside of their native countries were able to get their hands o Amassakoul, as the album, along with their 2001 studio release were banned by the governments of both Mali and Algeria.  This is largely due to the music addressing issues like political exile, social inequality, and overall repression of people, which is why the music of Tinariwen has been dubbed "Tishoumaren" which translates into "music of the unemployed."  This sentiment of "music for the masses" comes through clearly in their music, as their songs are complete walls of sound, with a number of musicians all taking their own musical line on the overall theme.  On "Oualahila Ar Teninam," displays the truly hybrid nature of the music of Tinariwen, as one can find elements of funk, blues, jazz, and rock perfectly integrated with the traditional African sounds.  The song opens with what is unquestionably an African roots sound, with little more than group chanting and hard hand-claps, and it is this aspect that sets the mood for the spirited musical journey which follows.  The song then quickly differentiates itself from nearly every other sound to come out of Africa, as the guitar that drops in has such a unique tone, that one can hear everything from Chuck Berry to Carlos Santana as an influence.  As the sounds of the guitars and various percussion instruments blend together, it quickly becomes clear that Tinariwen has created as primal and mesmerizing a rock song as has ever been composed.

Furthering the blending to style, the vocals found on "Oualahila Ar Teninam" reflect the same hybrid sense that is found within the musical arrangement.  At the base of the vocals, they are "call and response" style, a vocal approach that can be seen across the world as the easiest way to convey that the song is speaking to an entire group, and encourage all to become "a part" of the song.  On "Oualahila Ar Teninam," the song has group founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib handles the "solo" singing portions, with the other nine or ten members of the group repeating his words.  Furthermore, this group response can easily be interpreted as the group singing on behalf of all of those who are in a similar, forced-homeless situation, and once one understands the lyrics, it becomes even more clear.  The song title itself roughly translates into "Oh My God, You're Unhappy," and this title in itself can be interpreted in a number of different ways, as one can see it as a commentary on the mindset of the forced nomads, but one can also interpret it quite literally as a statement towards a higher power.  The song goes deeper, yet keeps the double meaning when the group sings sentiments like , "...your soul is hurting and your body is ill..."  With statements like "...your silent suffering on your back, don't hide your pain any longer...," it is somewhat understandable as to why the governments were "afraid" of the music, as it bonded people together in common pain, and this is often one of the first steps in a public uprising.

It is almost amusing to look across the world and across history and see how many "people of power" have shown their cowardice in the face of music that promoted change.  From the early songs of slaves to the words of Woody Guthrie to the spirit of the punk movement, it is almost impossible to find ANY social uprising that was not rooted in music.  Taking their place along this proud line of musicians, the nomadic band known as Tinariwen has been standing in the face of oppression for more than thirty years.  Constantly bringing life to the despair of the "working man" and those forced from their homes, they have shown an uncanny ability for capturing the moods and feelings of the disenfranchised masses.  The fact that their 2004 release, Amassakoul, was banned in their "home" countries speaks volumes to the power of the words and music found on the record, and the manner with which the band blends together their native sounds with the soul, spirit, and sound of so many other genres from across the world is nothing short of stunning.  The guitar work found on "Oualahila Ar Teninam" has as much rock spirit and soul as one will find in any recording from any band, and in many ways, it highlights the fact that, even so many decades after rock music "began," it is still a sound of rebellion at its core.  Standing as one of the greatest groups of hybrid music, Tinariwen continue to stand in defiance of not only political restrictions, but musical as well, and all of their musical mastery can be found in top form on their song, "Oualahila Ar Teninam."

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