Album of the Day: Ahmed Ag Kaedy, “Akaline Kidal”

In 2018, Tuareg guitarist Ahmed Ag Kaedy recorded this devastating solo acoustic album on an eight-track cassette recorder in Portland, Oregon, with the help of Sahel Sounds owner-producer Christopher Kirkley. Akaline Kidal (“My Land, Kidal”) is Kaedy’s poetically couched lament for Kidal, his northern Mali hometown which was overrun by an alliance of Tuareg rebels and Islam extremists in 2012. In the aftermath, Kaedy, his bandmates in Amanar, and most of their friends and families abandoned Kidal.

On Akaline Kidal, Kaedy ponders the seeming impossibility of returning home. (He sings in the Tuareg language; English translations are provided with the LP and cassette versions.) “I see Kidal there before me and it’s become like the ruins of a civilization,” he sings on the title track, his voice sounding parched, weary, and unfiltered. “A land of the United Nations, the French military, and a terrible drought.” Kaedy updates the politics of the Tuareg music pioneered by Tinariwen in deceptively laid-back tunes like “Azaman” (“Era”), which compares Mali’s northerners to “small animals, separated from their mothers.”

Kaedy leavens the mood with a single love song, “Asin Oral” (“Two Months”), but even that nostalgic reverie echoes an overall melancholia that’s relieved only by the final, stoic stanza of “Adounia” (“Life”): “The wise say that this life is like the mousse that forms on a glass of tea / Never mind how large, in a short time it’s like it never existed at all.” Kaedy, who exiled himself to Bamako, Mali’s capital, grieves like a man without a country, a nomad in no man’s land.

-Richard Gehr

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