Album of the Day: Kel Assouf, “Black Tenere”
By Megan Iacobini de Fazio · February 19, 2019 Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

Black Tenere, by desert blues outfit Kel Assouf, is not so much a blistering record as it is a Saharan letterbomb: heavy guitars, fierce drumming, and hypnotically repetitive beats channeling the band’s anger in the face of injustice and colonialism. It’s their first effort since stripping down to a trio—the group’s members are Anana Harouna, the Belgium-based Nigerien founder, frontman, and guitarist, whose Kel Tamashek (a word preferred to the colonial moniker Tuareg) rock is the heart and soul of this band; drummer Olivier Penu, whose percussion is the propulsive force behind most of the tracks; and Tunisia-born keyboardist Sofyann Ben Youssef, the sonic mastermind who brought us the (North) Afrofuturistic marvel that is AMMAR 808.

Ben Youssef, who also produced the album, layers electronic beats throughout the record, and his keyboards and swirling organ infuse Anana Harouna’s classic rock sound with more than a touch of psychedelia and North African vibes. The album starts with the powerful “Fransa,” where distorted guitars, insistent clapping, and moody electronic beats express the anger at France’s violent colonial takeover. These political messages are omnipresent on the record: The band condemn the U.S. on the searing “America,” and honor Kel Tamashek freedom fighter Mano Dayak on the thunderous “Amghar.” Even the meditative “Tamatant,” with its nostalgic melodies, evocative guitar licks, and dreamy synths, calls for resistance. There are also exceptions—consider album standout “Taddout,” a mesmerizing and intimate ode to the desert.

Black Tenere’s various musical influences—and there are many—are the result of the band members’ different backgrounds and experiences of displacement; like the musicians who made it, it’s a proud testament to today’s increasingly mixed world, in which cultures and identities mingle and cross-pollinate, developing new sounds and hybrid identities. Migration is a beautiful thing.

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