A cursory google search reveals that the song title means “I’ve Heard That You’re Educated and Aware”. Though I’m not sure if the song’s title is a satirical nod to their 2012 Grammy victory or American musical festival gauntlet, Tinariwen’s 2014 album Emmaar is a profoundly important political statement created in response to the collapsing infrastructure of their native Mali. The North African group’s rebellious music comes from a very real place, and, unlike many of their American contemporaries, their struggle is not allegorical or ideological. Islamic militants in Mali have literally declared war on music, setting fire to guitars and drum sets, and kidnapping or exiling musicians. Members of Tinariwen exist in a permanent tour limbo, many of whom have not been able to return to their families in fear of being prosecuted or killed.
“Islegh Teghram Tifhamam” is a great track not only because it’s politically significant or sung in Tamashek, but also because the members of Tinariwen are incredibly talented and creative musicians. “Islegh Teghram Tifhamam” is alien, but there is also a warm familiarity to the track: its percussion is inventive and downright groovy, the guitars evocative of American blues and smattered with creative fills. The handclaps and echoed chants don’t come across as cliches of world music, but instead flourishes of a band that knows how to write a catchy hook. It’s enchanting to see musicians elaborating on a reference point completely different than your own (in my case; white bread, undertravelled, armchair theorist), but even more fascinating when the track is satisfying to my American ear.