Tinariwen: The Judges’ Verdict On Our 2009 Winners

Over the next few days, we'll be running full transcripts of the judges' meeting to decide the winner of 2009's Uncut Music Award. Today we begin with their thouhts on the winner, Tinariwen's "Imidiwan: Companions".

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Over the next few days, we’ll be running full transcripts of the judges’ meeting to decide the winner of 2009’s Uncut Music Award. Today we begin with their thouhts on the winner, Tinariwen‘s “Imidiwan: Companions”.

Billy Bragg: The Tins, yeah, I really liked the Tinariwen album. It seems to be a bit more pulsating than their last one. I could put this on and listen to it all day, it takes me to a place where nothing else I’m hearing these days does. I’m not really sure how to explain it. I listen to a lot of African music, and the stuff I generally like has more classical African instrumentation. They get right to the roots of the music, not just African music, but they’ve really got it down to that pulsating rhythm. Maybe it’s because you don’t know what they’re singing about, you don’t focus on the lyrical content, so you’re more focused on the rhythmic power of it and the way it all comes together.


Allan Jones: It kind of helps you realise what a great rock ‘n’ roll band they are.

Bob Harris: They’re a great rock ‘n’ roll band, almost like an old school R&B band.

Billy: Exactly! It’s not like they’ve gone back to the delta – well, they have, they’ve gone back to the Nile delta! – but they’ve gone back to the wellspring of the music that we love, and the fact that they’re using electric guitars in that way adds to it.


Allan: It’s such an exciting guitar sound.

Billy: Amazing. I think this band will be hugely influential; in the next couple of years we’ll be hearing young bands lifting the tensions and the rhythms of Tinariwen. You find yourself reaching back to the blues to explain what they do, it’s like they’ve turned the whole bloody thing upside down.

Bob Harris: They were in the studio with me, and as we usually do we asked them to bring in a couple of tracks they might want us to play. They brought in John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix. I mentioned earlier how I like an artist’s lifestyle to inform the music, and this is the definitive example of lifestyle spilling into music. Their story is so fascinating, the way that Ibrahim Ag Alhabib grew up into music. He was literally a wild four-year-old, his parents had been killed, and he’d never heard guitar before. He saw a guitar being played on a film being projected up against the wall of a building when he was seven years old, and couldn’t believe it what this thing was. So he made his own guitar, and he subsequently became known just as “Guitar” among everyone who knew him – he was the only person who had one of these things. It’s a very rebel background, as we know, but it’s much more than that.

There are layers and layers here that I don’t think we will ever completely understand, there’s flavours and hints of so much in this music. If we’re talking about what’s the most amazing, creative, forward-looking, political record we’re discussing, then this album is very, very special. There’s a lot of words here, the language, that don’t completely or properly translate into English. There’s so much to discover, to know about this record, but you find yourself asking how much do I want to know, or how much do I just want to be entranced by it.

Rachel Unthank: It’s hypnotic, isn’t it? It’s almost trance-inducing. I saw them at the Cambridge Folk Festival one year, I had a hangover and wasn’t really paying attention but it just took me over. Every time I put this album on the quality just shines through. It’s just so dark and brooding, and genuinely rock ‘n’ roll, compared to the gloss of Kings Of Leon.

Billy: Well, the Kings Of Leon is where rock ‘n’ roll is, where it finds itself today, whereas Tinariwen are something more primal.

Rachel: It’s quite easy to be enchanted by their story, because it’s exciting, but it’s not just some kind of world fusion where they’re playing some kind of world music and just stuck some electric guitars over the top of it. This is the way they’ve learned to play music, it’s from them, and you can hear that and it’s powerful.

Dave Robinson: I loved this. I was very pleased you asked me to be on this panel, because I didn’t know much about a lot of these artists. When I go into a record shop it’s to buy something I’ve got in my mind, but trying to avoid the casual purchase that you take home and have to dump very quickly. I’d not heard Tinariwen before, and I just found this stunning. The mood washes over you, it’s a remarkable record. In the wake of all these other records it really stands out as something unique. I don’t care what he’s singing about, but I get a vibe of what he’s singing about. It’s probably the most impressive record of this bunch. We’ve talked about Kings Of Leon and I really think that it’s a really professional record where everything falls into place, it’s what you might expect from a career in western music, but this is in entirely a different class.

Mark Cooper: The Kings Of Leon analogy is interesting, because this is Tinariwen’s third record, they’ve been touring since 2004. We’ve supported them a lot on Later…, but as sometimes happens with bands you think you know you let it pass you by, you think you already know the score. I didn’t listen to this when it first came out, I just thought it was going to be another Tinariwen record that’ll be great and I’ll catch up with it when I can. But I think it’s a quantum leap, it’s their best-produced record, it’s got the strongest songs. It distills Tinariwen and takes them to another level, and I’m really glad I did this panel because I probably would have otherwise taken them for granted because I considered myself a convert already. I love the first song [“Imidiwan Afrik Tendam”], I think it genuinely should be a single in the world I live in. It’s lighter, it’s a bit country-ish.

When I first heard Tinariwen it helped me revive the word “heavy”, which I hadn’t been able to use since I first heard the Edgar Broughton Band! I also love the fact that this is a world music record that saves world music from the liberals. That’s really cool, I think a rock audience can like it, it’s not precious or worthy. It’s real.

Tony Wadsworth: I find myself agreeing with what everyone else is saying, so I’ll try not to repeat anything. I think the guitar sound is probably the best I’ve heard in years, and it also makes it judge it in a different way, in much more real terms. I just think it’s mega, it’s so powerful. You know how with early rock ‘n’ roll records there’s only a few instruments but everything just sounds bigger? That’s what I get from this.

Mark: They’re a band that everybody should and could love, given a chance. Talking about radio and the music industry, it’s hard not to believe that a couple of tracks here if they were given even half a chance could really hit big.

Billy: No problem. Black geezers, don’t speak English, probably Muslim – easy sell! Who’s doing the promo on this one?!

Mark: But I do think that the minute people get a chance to hear this stuff they’ll get it. It’s not hard to get.

Allan: It speaks a common language, I think. You don’t have to have the lyrics translated to know what they’re talking about. You don’t need to listen to the words of rock ‘n’ roll to be excited by it.

Billy: Well, this is very encouraging. I didn’t think they’d even get on the shortlist, but for them to emerge as the favourites is great. I really do think they are an Uncut band.


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