Etran Finatawa – Desert Crossroads (Riverboat/Planet Company)


If you’re a little concerned that many attempts at fusion with ‘world music’ verge on a form of musical colonialism, with western musicians cherry picking the more exotic elements of their third world counterparts, then perhaps Etran Finatawa are for you. Translated as ‘the stars of tradition,’ this is a fusion of traditions from within Niger, the Tuaregs’, who we’ve seen recently via Mali’s desert rockers Tinariwen and the Wodaabe, both of whom live on the edges of the Southern Sahara. You can see the division from the cover of this disc, the three Tuareg’s in the traditional blue and white robes and the Wodaabe in their long tunics with ostrich feathers and yellow face paint. Etran Finatawa are an incredibly unique ensemble. Traditional Wodaabe music has a strong vocal emphasis, with these incredible sing-along chants, and this forms a basis for Etran Finatawa, the first ensemble to attempt to modernise the traditions. When this is combined with the guitars of the Tuareg’s desert blues, something new and quite incredible forms. It’s a really unique form of rock music with minimal western intervention. I say minimal because producer Paul Borg writes (in the excellent liner notes) of a nagging preconception that the guitarist with his right handed guitar with a left handed neck bolted on may in fact be a Jimi Hendrix fan, a notion that was proven correct during the recording of Desert Crossroads. The music is underpinned by the Tuareg percussion which requires two 16 kilo bags of earth to keep it secure when being played and the Wodaabe water drum, then there’s handclaps and assorted wails. The real key however is the vocals, the way the Tuareg’s and the Wodaabe vocal styles combine within the one song. Desert Crossroads is their second album after 2006’s Introducing and it’s perhaps not as immediate as its predecessor, however there is greater complexity and range of styles, with extended musical interludes and these powerful moments of unaccompanied vocals. It’s incredibly emotional uplifting music that transcends the extremely limiting ‘world music’ label and touches on elements of rock in a powerful, hypnotic and non derivative way.

Bob Baker Fish


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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.

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