Saturday, July 31, 2010

ETRAN FINATAWA - Tarkat Tajje/Let’s Go! (Riverboat Records)

The third album by Etran Finatawa finds the nomads from Niger further carving out their atmospheric and philosophical niche in the crowded “desert blues” field. If their debut was a tight and tuneful Tinariwen-lite (in the best sense) and the follow-up, Desert Crossroads, a slicker, more accessible attempt at tackling the concerns that affect the shrinking itinerant communities of the Sahara, then Tarkat Tajje feels like a concerted effort to revert to the elongated percussive call and response roots of this hypnotic, community-focused music. The loping electric guitar-led melodies of the Tuaregs are still a key component to the sound, leavened by the perky multilayered rhythms and colourful polyphonic singing (and painted faces) of the Wodaabe people, allowing the songs’ natural ebb and flow of rhythm and musical dialogue to draw the listener in. This intricate template is used to address a broad set of themes centred on the ensemble’s own role in its Saharan community but also as a global voice for their compatriots. It’s a classic case of a group’s experiences opening up as a result of their initial success and informing the subject matter of their songs whilst paradoxically forcing the musical approach back on itself as they return to the haunting repetition and stark rhythmic pull out of which this music originally sprung. No real breath-catchers lurk within; no short, obviously radio-friendly blues-rock tunes; just an end-to-end series of unfolding songs that build a mesmeric force of their own. Etran Finatawa are quietly evolving a sterling canon of recordings to match their compulsive live performances.

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