Thanks Andi! I really like this type of well made fusion stuff. In addition to V.I.C., I recommend checking out Goat - and if that's too close to mainstream rock - then Ukandanz & Tamalalou. Waiting for the next Kel Assouf release should now be added to the list, of course!
When this popped up in my desert rock feed was my first thought: mistagged. But NO. Hard to describe what it really is – a groovy-upbeat-african-desert-folk-dirty-heavyblues-stonerrock interpretation with so many different styles in it, you wouldn't even believe it could work. Reminds me somehow at greek folkstoner band V.I.C (Villagers of Ioannina City) – but not yet. Listen to this musik with open mind and it will take you by “Tikounen“ (~ Surprise). \m/
Favorite track: Tikounen.
Kel Assouf’s new album title literally translates as “surprise” and it’s a term that’s emblematic of the rousing music contained within it. Crunching guitar riffs burst from seemingly nowhere, glimmering keyboard lines appear, soaring vocals float, charging drums pound and beat and the bass slithers with a sultry grace, all forging a heady groove. It’s most certainly a rock record but far from a conventional one - it's desert rock for the 21st century.
“I’ve been in Europe for 10 years but my soul will always be in the desert. Even when I’m here the desert runs through my blood” so says Anana Harouna, the singer and guitarist in Kel Assouf and member of Tinariwen, who is an exiled musician from the Sahara currently living in Brussels, where this band formed around him back in 2006. Kel Assouf means both “those with nostalgia” and “sons of eternity” in the Tuareg language Tamasheq and since its formation the band has been built around the central identity of two fundamental ideas: the promotion of Tuareg culture and the struggle against discrimination.
The band’s debut album, Tin Hinane (2010), was something of a gentle stroll through multiple genres and tones, often led by intoxicating guitar lines, dancing flutes and glistening harp strings. If Tin Hinane was the calm before the storm then Tikounen (which translates as “surprise”) is the careering hurricane that follows. The album is one rooted in anger, an expression of stupefaction instilled by a world that rages with war, injustice and pollution and the music on the album embodies that anger exquisitely, charging with all the force and rhythm of a stampede. “We want to express a feeling of pain. In fact it’s a shout, a scream,” says Harouna of the album.
Joining him on this album with vocals and percussion is Toulou Kiki, who was the primary actress in the critically lauded, multiple award-winning film Timbuktu. She says of her involvement in the group and this album, “Music is always the easiest way to pass a message. A message of pain, revolution or love can be transferred without hurting anybody. There’s just you, your voice and your guitar. It’s the most beautiful thing there is”.
Whilst undeniably beautiful, it’s also a forceful and enthralling record. Heavy blues-rock licks drive the core of the album, at times the tone becoming dense and prolonged, with slight nods to Sabbath and even a faint whiff of doom-y stoner rock. “We looked for heavy rock sounds, with grooves that are much more upfront.” Says keyboard player and producer Sofyann Ben Youssef. The groove he talks about also owes a great deal to the rhythm section, a harmonious fusing of fluid and pulsing basslines, with driving and dancing drums that push forward the charge further. The combination of all of these musical aspects results in the breaking of new sonic ground, “It’s a sound which will be new in the history of Tuareg music” Harouna says.
Tikounen is a record that spans the globe, dancing to an African, trance-like beat whilst simultaneously twirling to the sounds of more western-orientated rock. Similarly, the vocals, the message and the impact is one extracted from around the planet, with Harouna writing about the Sahara and Niger and the contrasts of everyday life both there and in his current home of Europe. The language spoken on the record may be the largely unfamiliar one of Tamasheq, but the sounds, energy and force of it are much more universally understood and relatable.