Born to a Touareg mother and European father, Faris Amine has hit upon a unique twist to the desert rock phenomenon, which makes his album pleasingly different from the glut of copycat Touareg guitar releases that has followed the crossover success of Tinariwen, in much the same way that the market was flooded by antique Cuban albums post-Buena Vista Social Club.
Faris takes ten classic blues songs, with roots in the experience of black sharecroppers on the Mississippi plantations and repatriates them to the African desert, translating the lyrics into Tamasheq and accompanying himself on guitar in a hybrid style that combines the loping assouf with the bottleneck slide of Robert Johnson and the original Delta bluesmen.
On Son House’s ‘Death Letter’ (reinvented as ‘Oulhawen win Tidit’) and Vera Hall’s ‘Trouble So Hard’ (famously sampled by Moby), the Touareg template rules. On other tracks, such as Skip James’ ‘Hard Times Killing Floor Blues’ it’s the Delta that dominates. Then on ‘Jesus is on the Mainline’ (renamed ‘Aghregh Yallah’) and Muddy Waters’ ‘Feel Like Going Home’ (‘Oulh Essayaq’) the traditions of Mississippi and the Sahara are stitched seamlessly together in perfect calibration. Faris’ album may just be the most satisfying fusion of its kind since Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder’s Talking Timbuktu more than 20 years ago…..by Nigel Williamson…………….. And now for something completely different, and i mean COMPLETELY different! … ‘Algerian Tuareg dessert blues played on a weissenborn’! if you thought weissenborn music was a niche market then this my friends is uber niche. 10 tracks of i quote “rural delta blues songs” by the artist known simply as Faris. Now I’m not gonna lie to you this is a grower and only after repeat plays does it give up its profound musical glory because on first listen the sheer uniqueness of this project just baffles and beguiles you leaving you asking yourself… ”Did i like that or not?” The album notes with this release are extensive and very very detailed, part history, part biographical part philosophical.
To get your head round what is happening on this record you need to understand a few basic things. Blues music can historically trace its origins directly back to Africa through the invisible years of slavery and war and as hard as history tried to wipe their past cultures and dehumanise them it remained in them though the passage of songs which eventually formed the basis of modern day African-American blues music. The Tuareg people suffered similar upheaval during the colonial years in their native North Africa and ended up living a nomadic way of life on the road travelling across Africa. During these years the Tuareg formed their own style of music through parallel cohabiting with people from the upper Niger river the same people who had direct links with the new African-American music culture. As the years went by the two forms of music bled into each other more so for the Turareg people and western style guitar patterns seeped back from America to Africa and the circle was complete.
Here’s where an Italian based but of Algerian decent artist Faris Amine comes in to the equation. His mother was a Tuareg. The Tuareg style of music was in his blood and his mother before she died use to play him traditional Tuareg drum music. His father was a huge music fan of western music and collected and shared myriads of different styles of records with the young Faris. Blues however struck the deepest note with him and artists such as Skip James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson and Son House became massive musical heroes. Learning guitar through a love of Jimi Hendrix Faris soon became a travelling albeit confused musician. Confusion turned to enlightenment after hearing to the band Tinariwen, a musical yearning had awoken and a calling for his ancestral culture had taken hold. A period of immersion into Tuareg music followed and the artist we see today was reborn. Well it wasn’t to long before the notion of an album full of all blues standards in the Tuareg style was suggested and ultimately realised. “Mississippi To Sahara” was born and a meeting of musical forms was created “Rural Delta Blues”. Keeping the balance between the two styles was no doubt a difficult endeavour but one that has been handled with care and the mix of styles is sympathetic to traditional western blues and African Tuareg sensibilities.
Trust when i say this is worth the effort and when you understand the the USP of this project it all falls into place and you end up emerging yourself into a foreign but all too familiar landscape. After you’ve got your head around the style then the lyrics really open up a new world to you especially after you’ve read Faris’s heartfelt track notes which are very autobiographical.
Favourites are hard to choose as the whole album is continual journey of discovery and cultured enjoyment but “Jesus Is On The Mainline” is comfortably familiar and ‘Since Ive Laid My Burden Down” is particularly haunting in its delivery and sentiment given the context of these songs origins. The bottom line is that this is a unique meeting of musical styles played out for your pleasure on a weissenborn which i can’t think of a better instrument suited to deliver these unique songs. 10/10 on the curio scale…………
Desert Blues was a term created by music journalists back in the 90s to describe the music of Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen, and others. But American blues really does have its roots in West Africa, particularly the Sahel and Sahara regions. Amongst the originators of the blues are the Kel Tamasheq or Touareg people. On this album, Faris brings 10 rural delta blues songs back home to Africa, revisiting them in the guitar style known as assouf and showing how close the souls of these two worlds are to each other…..
Faris Amine grew up playing American blues before discovering his mother’s Touareg roots. He takes Delta Blues from Son House, Muddy Waters, Mississippi Fred McDowell and others back to North Africa, translating or writing new words in Tamasheq and the result is compelling music. Delta Blues reconnected to Africa, reinvented as Assouf or what has come to be known as Desert Blues.
“Oulhawen Win Tidit” is a standout track. Based on “Death Letter” by Son House, Faris wrote Tamasheq lyrics and the result is a spine-chilling tune. Muddy Waters’ “Feel Like Going Home” appears as “Oulh Essyaq” and to my ears it eerily captures the feelings common to the Tuaregs forced out of native lands by war and to people forced out of Africa by the slave trade.
I love the Weissenborn style guitar made by Herrmann Guitars pictured on the cover. It is easier for me to imagine Touareg music played around a campfire in the Sahara on a Weissenborn than on an electric guitar (where do they get the juice?). That said, most of the album still has the characteristic electric snarl of Desert Blues that seduced people like Robert Plant…..ByTerry O’ @ WORT-FM…………
Awesome album. Explores the roots of American blues in West African music thru 10 notable selections like The Soul of a Man, Jesus is on the Mainline, and Hard Times Killing Floor Blues, for example. These respectively are Ma Ihan Iman Nagadem, Aghregh Yallah, and Alwaq Semman. The West African tune is played first along with any lyrics that have survived and then the American tune with accompanying lyrics. Only two of the ten are considered traditional. Others are credited to Muddy Waters, Son House, Fred McDowell, Blind Willie Johnson, and other less well-known names in the genre. This album has received regular airplay on my show on WMFO and we have added it to our automation library….ByJoann C. Keesey……………..
1. Oulhawen Win Tidit 2. Alwaq Semman 3. Assouf Id Nekmam 4. Imiskay Idjoleman 5. Aghregh Yallah 6. Inezdjam 7. Oulh Essayaq 8. Alkhoriya 9. War Toyed (Feat. Leo Welch) 10. Ma Ihan Iman Nagadem (Feat. Leo Welch)