It’s hard not to wonder whether the African music we hear in the west with incredible evocative back stories and lush production values, is indeed what is being listened to back home. Sahel Sounds are the label that first uncovered the practice of Bluetooth cellphone music exchange that they presented on their Music From Saharan Cellphones release, offering music that is a world away from the polished world music we normally hear. In fact when I interviewed label owner Chris Kirkley a couple of years ago he spoke of a band in the Sahel who described world music as ‘when you take a bit of western music and mix it with your African music and you take a little of salsa music and you mix that in too.’ ‘That’s funny,’ he reflected, ‘when we hear world music we think of African music.’
All of which is a long way to say that ‘Tarhanine Tegla’ has pretty much been the biggest song in the Tuareg world for years, yet no one in the west seemed to notice. The band, hailing from Algeria, Afous D’Afous and their leader Kader Tarhanine are huge in the Sahara, yet it have not really made a foray into to the West until now. In the press release Kirkley speaks of new Tuareg releases every second week in the west, so he kept waiting for Tarhanine to appear, and they never did. So eventually Kirkley contacted the band and here it is on this limited 7″.
On first listen, I couldn’t separate it from many of those other Tuareg releases he speaks of, all the ingredients are here, the desert blues, the driving webs of electric guitar and plaintive vocals, with earnest backing vocals. It didn’t necessarily stand out and I wondered what all the fuss was. If anything I was more interested in the b-side the more laidback Maghreb influenced ‘Tarhanam Toussassi’, a distinctively more electronic autotuned piece, vaguely reminiscent of R&B with swirling synths and multitracked vocals.
Yet curiously something happened, hours later the A-side was still in my head. In the following days, and weeks since then all I want to do is listen to the tune over and over. It’s incredibly addictive, catchy even, and not understanding the meaning of the words does little to dampen the power of the song. It’s at these moments that you realize music’s universal appeal. I understand why it was so huge across the Sahara, it’s a slow burner, and one listen is all it takes.