Energetic Desert Blues from Alhousseini Anivolla of Etran Finatawa

by delarue

Etran Finatawa singer/guitarist Alhousseini Anivolla has a new desert blues album out, The Walking Man, which takes the style and gives it a welcome shot of adrenaline: it’s closer to the harder-hitting sound of his Tuareg brethren Terakaft (who also have a killer new album due out next month) than his old band. In that sense, this is more of a rock record. Westerners may call the style desert blues, but in reality it’s both rock, and blues, and a mix of indigenous styles: like all nomadic cultures, these guys literally take the best of pretty much every possible world. Anivolla is a one-man band, playing all the guitars and bass and driving the rhythm with a simple, pulsing hand drum beat. The whole thing is streaming here.

It’s got everything that fans of this stuff have been devouring ever since desert blues went global: hypnotic two-chord jams, trance-inducing beats, biting blues-infused guitar and in Anivolla’s case, warmly laid-back vocals sung in his local vernacular. Anivolla is an incisive and remarkably subtle guitarist, varying his attack on the strings, adding minute levels of natural distortion, his incisive, bluesy phrases ringing out over long, swaying vamps. By the slowly unwinding standards of this music, the opening track, Immousan – a message to the elders to pass along their wisdom to the young generation – is remarkably catchy, briskly swaying and spiced with spiky hammer-on guitar phrases.

The equally catchy second track pulses along with a darkly rustic, minor-key theme that fans of old American country blues will quickly recognize. Anivolla sings a low second, vocal line on the third track, adding a menacing undercurrent that anchors his sometimes Hendrix-tinged, stinging guitar harmonies.

The fourth track is a thicket of tricky counterrythms, bluesy guitar riffage mingling with more resonant, trancey phrasing. The fifth song, Talitin, kicks off with an anthemic series of riffs and then works a more carefree vibe, Anivolla eventually looping a guitar phrase for extra hypnotic effect. By contrast, the instrumental Attareach – which originally appeared in the film Endless Journey, which documents Alhousseini and several of his countrymen on a tour of schools and youth centers in their native Niger – is more skeletal and staccato, the guitar carrying what’s essentially a vocal line.

After that, Anivolla launches into a couple of one-chord jams, the first centered around a bright, reggae-tinged riff, the next one with some unexpectedly energetic high vocal harmonies over the scuffling layers of guitar. Drony bass and vocals kick off the ninth track, quickening the pace with an anthemic minor-key hook: it has the feel of a singalong that the band would reach a peak with toward the end of a concert. By contrast, the darkly hallucinatory Iblis Odouad – meaning “the demons are coming out” – builds a vividly dusky, anxious ambience. There’s also a “bonus track,” featuring South African chanteuse Malebo Mothema, which with its swirling synthesizer, gentle acoustic guitar and airy vocals, has more of a pop feel than the rest of the record. Another winner from World Music Network.