Minimalist and powerful, the power trio Kel Assouf is back with Black Tenere, a third album that is resolutely grounded in rock, whose stoner distortions amplify the contemporary realities of Tuareg communities.
Traditionally, Tuareg men are not musicians unless they are flute players, a shepherd’s instrument. Instead, men dance, spin and sing poems while woman play the tende and the imzad, a monochord violin that has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage item since 2013. Its ancestral melodies have been used to welcome and comfort warriors returning to the camp. The acoustic and then electric arrival of the guitar in the 80s revolutionized the sound of Tamasheq traditions: men began to take hold of it and some, following from Tinariwen’s example, created avant-garde sounds and political weapons in music form.
In Kel Assouf, it is via Anana Harouna’s Flying V that the struggles converge, focused on the ”power of the revolt, a real cry for rage.” A son of the super-arid sandy plains of the “desert of all deserts” in Niger, whose hopes and dramas he now relays in Black Tenere, Anana Harouna took the paths of the exodus at 9 years old, towards Agadez and Libya, like many Tuaregs before him.
From his childhood, he cherished the memory of a “very beautiful, very alive space that inspired life and freedom. The desert was welcoming, we could sleep everywhere, go where we wanted. Because of terrorism, droughts and geopolitical tensions, this desert no longer exists.” With Black Tenere, Anana Harouna wants to lift the veil on a twilight desert where “the rights of the population are not taken into account. In this territory, there is no water, no access to health or education. Yet its underbelly is full of wealth, natural resources that people are robbed of.”
Before immigrating to Brussels where he founded Kel Assouf (“La Nostalgie”) in 2006, Anana Harouna joined the ranks of the Tuareg rebellion for a time between 1993 and 1996. The Tuareg have always asserted an independence and freedom of movement in the Saharan deserts, but French colonization and the sedentary nature of the communities (due to reduction of nomadic trailer lifestyles) led to profound changes in Tuareg society. Marginalized and divided into the new nation-states such as Libya, Mali, Algeria or Niger, the Tuaregs have since led many rebellions in which their identity and territorial claims are often violently repressed.
“I can’t stand violence. My guitar is my way of fighting, it’s the best weapon to claim back our rights.” Instead of blood shed, Anana Harouna prefers the saturated sounds of rock discovered along with Jimi Hendrix, Dire Straits and Ibrahim ag Alhabib, the father-pioneer of Tinariwen, whose poetry and electric blues remain powerful inspirations. Kel Assouf’s first album, Tin Hinane – named after the flamboyant queen of the Tuareg – bursted with influences of rock, blues, reggae … at the risk of becoming scattered.
But for Tikounen (2016) and Black Tenere, the trio is tightened because “the energy is more compact, more powerful.” Anana Harouna also found a well-placed ally: Sofyann Ben Youssef. While the Tunisian producer excels in the retro-futuristic distortions when he is in charge of AMMAR 808, he puts his talents at the service of a militant rock, working the riffs of Black Tenere into an offensive, eruptive and tremulous sound (“Tenere”, “Alyochan” and “Ubary”). On the organ and the Moog SUB 37, Sofyann Ben Youssef innovates and renovates the traditional Tuareg melodies with his particularly satisfying electronic textures as they embrace the poetry of Anana Harouna’s nostalgic ballads (“Tamatant,” “Taddout”), tempering the rage of Black Tenere without going so far as to distort it.
Until trance descends, Anana Harouna sings as a free man about the history and life of people who won’t surrender, and his own life, which he dedicates to a fight: “Instead of cultivating a fantasy postcard, we would be better served by being interested in the inhabitants of the desert, how they live, how they wake up and marvel at the world … today, many artists defend the cause of my people. We help the world discover our culture. Today, that is our mission: we have microphones, we are megaphones … it is a matter of survival.
Kel Assouf – Black Tenere (Glitterbeat Records / Igloo Records)