Imarhan Timbuktu: Akal Warled

[5 August 2014]

By Steve Horowitz

Desert Music

The group Imarhan Timbuktu combines traditional Saharan sounds and contemporary Western music to create a very strange and likeable sound. They come from Timbuktu, hence their name, and have toured the globe during the last 20 years to promote their heritage and culture. The band incorporates acoustic percussion with electric instruments to craft swirling rhythms that do more than cause one to dance; it inspires one to think and reflect on the strangeness of the world. The vocals range from straightforward singing to high pitched yodeling as if the late Don Walser came from West Africa instead of West Texas. It’s downright catchy and begs for repeated listening.

The group’s leader, Mohamed Issa Ag Oumar El Ansari, plays electric guitar as if he’s trying to catch a hissing snake, while his younger brother, sisters, and friends keep the rhythms, bass and percussion moving. The songs themselves address everything from living in exile—the title tune translates as “Foreign Country” and according to the liner notes address the situation of the Tuareg people living in exile—to the beauty and importance of women. Not understanding the language does not impede one’s appreciation of the disc. The music speaks for itself in a more universal way than the meaning of the words ever can.

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