Group Inerane Guitars of Agadez

[Sublime Frequencies; 2008]

Styles: Saharan Nomad electric guitars
Others:  Tinariwen

Agadez is the largest city in Northern Niger, an area politically defined during the 1960s as colonial rule came to a close and African nations gained their independence. The area's people, the Tuareg, have long desired their own independent region, which would include land in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, and Libya. But for residents of the central Sahara, nomadic routes crossing territories and borders haven't changed for centuries. A pastoral race, the Tuaregs live as camel herders and traders, plying trades and crafts.

The Tuaregs are descended from Berbers, original inhabitants of the North African area now known as Libya. Their traditional desert homelands of the Sahara, which they referred to as Tinariwen, garnered the attention of international industrial interests when stores of valuable elements such as uranium and plutonium were discovered. Intrusions into the region, along with neglectful government policies towards the Tuareg, have always been contentious and sources of conflict. These tensions led to a particularly violent resistance during a difficult period in the mid-’90s, with rebels fighting for a share of the wealth generated by the mineral extraction industries. That rebellion, known as the First Tuareg Rebellion, ended with a peace pact in 1995 that promised benefits and recognition for the Tuaregs.

Guitars of Agadez, Group Inerane’s release on Sublime Frequencies (originally vinyl-only but recently issued on CD), documents what the liner notes describe as the “now sound of the Tuareg Guitar Revolution.”

Led by Bibi Ahmed and Adi Mohammed on guitar, with only a drum kit and a chorus of female vocalists to accompany them, the African natives' music is present and complex in a way that belies its simple arrangement. Although Western sounds probably did little to influence Group Inerane — given the relative isolation of the Tuareg people and the reclusive nature of nomadic lifestyles — there is a friendliness and familiarity to their songs. The vocals only go further to push them outside the world of rock.

Take the first track, “Awal September,” which could (almost) have come from a Wolfman Jack set. The opening chords are familiar, but hearing the vocals — especially the chorus' quavering trill, which defies onomatopoeia — you know you’re listening to Berber descendants and not some obscure surf-rock gem. There’s zeal on every track, notably “Nadan Al Kazawnin,” which buzzes with amplification so overdriven you’d think it was proto-punk. The drumming is fierce on “Telilite,” supporting a truly eerie hissing vocal effect.

The trill, which is present throughout Guitars of Agadez, recurs so often that I wish I knew exactly what to call it. There’s probably a Tuareg word, something in their Tamajaq language that captures what the women are doing from the front of their throat, with the base of their tongue, up and down to the roof of their mouth. Quaver, trill, undulation of the vocal chords, “lalalalalalala,” high-pitched mega-hooting — I’m at a loss to capture the ferver and excitement that these vocals reveal. As is common in much African music, the choruses are mostly chanted in an elliptical tonal pattern.

The guitar music on the Guitars of Agadez originated as a method of communication between rebels, and thus has roots in resisting authority. Some of this anger and frustration are found in the songs, but there's also an ebullience and celebratory quality that betrays any militant rhythms. The guitar sound is similar to surf-rock, yet the song structures are modal and static in a way that Western rock largely eschews. Since you can’t get a vinyl copy anymore, you owe it to yourself to snatch up this CD version.

1. Kuni Majagani
2. Awal September
3. Ano Nagarus
4. Tenerte
5. Nadan al Kazawnin
6. Telilite
7. Tenere Etran
8. Ikab Kabau
9. Ashal Wali Tigeli
10. Kamu Talyat

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