First Listen: Tinariwen's New Album, 'Emmaar'

Feb 5, 2014
Originally published on February 5, 2014 11:30 am

How do you build on the reputation that has made your band the most visible ambassador of an entire people? For its seventh international album, Emmaar, Tinariwen has some striking ideas that were born out of both creativity and absolute necessity.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


NPR's music's First Listen gives us a chance to hear an album in its entirety before it is released. Those upcoming albums are featured on our website after the hosts of NPR's ALL SONGS CONSIDERED helped choose them. Today, Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton have some new music from Mali and the band Tinariwen.


BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Robin Hilton.

ROBIN HILTON, BYLINE: Good morning, Bob.

BOILEN: So this morning I'm driving in to work, right, knowing we're going to have this conversation about Tinariwen, and there was a vehicle driving in front of me. You've got to look at this picture I took.

HILTON: Oh, it's the Touareg, the Volkswagen Touareg SUV.

BOILEN: This is how much Tinariwen has started to seep into our culture. The Touaregs are nomadic people from Northern Mali, the Saharan Desert, surrounding regions. This band, Tinariwen, has been together in some form or another since the late '70s. They play this very drone-y, hypnotic sort of music and when you listen to it, you can really hear a connection with rock and roll music, but there's a lot of tradition in Tinariwen's music too.


HILTON: Many Touaregs have been advocating for and in some case fighting for their own independent nation for decades. The members of this band used to be actual rebel fighters. As you can imagine, their music has been very political in the past, and on this new record the songs touch on some of those familiar themes, talking about the feelings that they've been left with after so many decades of unrest.

BOILEN: And all of this is in Tamasheq, the language, that they sing. But in reading the English words, right, you can see there's lots of metaphors and so forth that do look inward.

HILTON: And the song we're listening to right now, they sing in that native language - today's love is like a mirage. The closer you get, the further it goes away.


BOILEN: So Tinariwen have always recorded in Africa, in mostly Northern Africa. The last record they made, they made a studio in a tent. This time, because of all the turmoil in Northern Mali, they decided to make a record somewhere else and they came to America, to Joshua Tree, California, to record the record, still in a desert 'cause they pretty much know no other way to do it. That's always the way they've made their records.

HILTON: They say that they thought that the air was different in the Mojave Desert. They sat around. They ate burritos. They watched Western movies and they ended up with a record that's a lot more laid back than some of their earlier recordings. In fact, the title of this record, "Emmaar," means heat on the breeze and it has this sort of languid feel to the music.

BOILEN: Amazing band and another great record from them.


MONTAGNE: ALL SONGS CONSIDERED co-hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton talking about the latest from Tinariwen. You can hear the new album at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.