A vague New Year’s Resolution for 2010 – not a big one, admittedly – is to try and write about more African records in Wild Mercury Sound, after embarrassingly never getting round to blogging on the likes of Tinariwen last year (and on Toumani Diabaté’s “Mande Variations” the year before, come to that).
When I say Africa, I might as well mean Mali, judging by those two – and, in fact, by these two records by Tamikrest and Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté. I always find this music quite hard to write about, much as I love it. There’s a certain absence of confidence on my part, which makes it tricky to discuss things in depth. I’m struggling, for instance, to firmly identify the differences between Tamikrest and the fine Touareg rebel bands who have preceded them, like Toumast, Etran Finatawa and Terakaft as well as Tinariwen.
Tamikrest are being touted pretty vigorously as “the future of Tamashek music”, though “Adagh” doesn’t sound like any tremendously radical leap forward – which is not a problem, obviously. Perhaps the interplay between those serpentine guitars is fractionally mellower and more westernised than their predecessors – you can just about spot the influence of producer Chris Eckman from the Walkabouts, and his brand of western desert music, tending towards a kind of ambience on, say, “Aratane N’Adagh” or “Toumastin” – but it’s a minuscule distinction.
I wonder if, soon, a much more blatant contemporary hybrid of Tamashek/Touareg music and rock will emerge, one that has, for better or worse, a more forceful new commercial edge rather than referring once again to the blues – and to the likes of Dire Straits, who are once again cited as a key influence in the band’s biog. In the meantime, though, this is another mighty, lovely record, at once meditative and propulsive, with a whole lot of those ecstatic Apache whoops whenever the band start motoring into a groove.
At home, the first Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté, “In The Heart Of The Moon” has been something of a constant for the past couple of years or so, and this follow-up, “Ali & Toumani”, is every bit as lovely. It’s a mystery, to be honest, why these sessions – recorded over three afternoons in London in 2005 – have sat on the shelf for so long. It’s certainly not because they’re in any way tossed off, or sub-par.
Though ostensibly a duets album, it’s Diabaté’s kora which tends to stand out on most of these tracks, with the late bluesman Touré generally tracking discreetly along in the background. It’s hard to think of a current musician with such a compelling virtuosity on any instrument as Diabaté right now, and his playing on “Ali & Toumani” is once again pretty incandescent; so free-flowing and dramatic, but with a sense that the mind-boggling technical skill involved is focused and unostentatious. For all its great intricacy, once again, it never feels as if Diabaté is merely showing off.
I’ve compared him to guitarists like John Fahey in the past, and Diabaté’s playing here has a similar effect on me: magnetic, hypnotic, hugely involving, but on a level where I find it difficult to distinguish and comment on individual tracks. Maybe it’s because his music is so immersively beautiful, and consequently relaxing, that I find it so hard to write about, as well as my sketchy critical vocabulary for African music in general. Whatever: wonderful record.