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Desert Crossroads

Etran Finatawa

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Album Review

It's that desert blues again, baby, a style that seems to have become vastly more popular in the last few years following the breakthrough by Tinariwen. Although this band follows much the same formula, they're made up not just of Tuareg but also Wodaabe people. There's a dryness to the guitar and a rolling rhythm that's reminiscent of a camel crossing the desert (much as the Tuvan singers use the rhythm of horses behind their songs). What possibly sets this group apart is that, at times, there's a deeper emphasis on percussion and its power, not just guitars or voices and the flute gives a sense of roots to the sound. There's a strong sense of cultural identity in all this; it's very much the music of the Sahara. Its lack of compromise is both its strength and weakness. Strength because it means Etran Finatawa won't lose who they are; it's a weakness if that will stop them from reaching a much wider audience, given the number of bands playing similar music now. That said, this is a strong disc, more refined than their debut, and tighter from months of touring, a satisfying slab from the true home of the blues.

Customer Reviews

Wailing, twisting songs as gritty as the desert wind

How they must hate the T word. If it wasn’t for Tinariwen, Etran Finatawa would surely rank as major stars of the desert blues. It’s true that they don’t have quite the power, confidence or exhilaration of Tinariwen at their best, although there are moments when their rolling, stuttering Touareg guitar styles sounds remarkably similar. But this is an impressive band who are well worth checking out, and their latest album seems to get better every time it’s played. Unlike Tinariwen, they don’t come from northern Mali but from across the border in Niger, and along with the Touareg players, the musicians here also include members who belong to a different group of Saharan nomads, the Wodaabe. There are sections here where their electric guitar blues inevitably echoes Tinariwen, but there are other songs where they explore very different styles. There are times when lead singer and guitarist Ghalitane Khamidoune kicks off a song with harsh-edged wailing solo vocal work, and then makes use of acoustic guitar along with hand drums and calabash percussion, and the result is like an African answer to a stirring field recording of the early Mississippi blues. There are some great songs here, too. ‘Asistan’ mixes light acoustic guitar work with chanting and percussion work, and is one of the best, sturdiest melodies on the album. The lyrics are also worth investigating, dealing as they do with the threats to the desert community and their remarkable culture. © Robin Denselow, Songlines magazine (June 2008 issue)

Desert Crossroads, Etran Finatawa
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