The same hypnotic 'desert blues', the scorching guitar riffs and call and respond vocals are all present but there is a weariness to Ibrahim Ag Alhabib’s singing that strikes a wounded note and is deeply affecting.
With their native Northern Mali now a conflict zone and members of the band being targeted by Islamic militants, Tinariwen were forced to leave their Tenere (homeland) to record Elwan in exile in California, France and Morocco.
The anguish that Tinariwen have recently suffered or observed can be felt on the laments campfire laments of Nizzagh Ijbal and Ittus and most tellingly on the aching Ténéré Tàqqàl. A translation of the lyrics reads as:
You can read the bitterness
on the faces
of the innocents
During this difficult
and bruising time
In which all solidarity
The mood is far more up-tempo on Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni’s songs. The sparkling Assàwt brings together cyclical guitar grooves and delightful acoustic arpeggios to create the most infectious moment on the album.
Elwan concludes with the mesmerizing Nànnuflày. Accompanied by the bluesy echo of guest Kurt Vile’s guitar it's a subtle and shimmering song. A cameo from the gruff voice of Mark Lanegan brings this number to a close with the lines: No sleepwalking, don’t keep me apart, I’m through sleepwalking, god me in my heart….it’s alright, it’s alright’ It’s a captivating end to one of Tinariwen’s most profound and essential albums.
There's an undeniable tone of melancholy to Elwan (Elephants) - Tinariwen's sublime seventh album.