On the heels of their acclaimed album Tikounen (ZEP 032LP, 2016) -- a recording The Guardian called "a leap forward in the modern Tuareg sound... truly radical" -- Kel Assouf return with an even more transformative collection: Black Tenere. Produced by the band's keyboardist Sofyann Ben Youssef, the mastermind behind the highly touted AMMAR 808, the new album strips things back to a power trio lineup and focuses on the crackling, forward-looking energy of Nigerien front man Anana Ag Haroun's next level Kel Tamashek (Tuareg) rock songs. Kel Assouf's musical journey has flowed seamlessly from the well-spring created by Ishumar desert rock pioneers Tinariwen -- that Haroun first encountered as a young musician in Niger -- towards sonic horizons that include the rock classicism and the club beats and astral ambiance of European electronic music. On Black Tenere, the band pushes these different textures and influences towards a persuasive, raw-edged crescendo. The messages found in Ag Haroun's lyrics are potent, tragic, and inspiring in their defiance. The struggle of the stateless Kel Tamashek (a name they prefer to the colonial moniker "Tuareg") to maintain control of their ancestral lands, their dignity and their nomadic way of life, has only recently entered the fringes of Western consciousness. Infused into the sharp, unswerving social analysis, and the calls for resistance, there is also the shimmer of nostalgia and a poetry of deep longing. To record the energized soundscapes of Black Tenere, the trio (Ag Harouna plus drummer Oliver Penu and keyboardist/producer Sofyann Ben Youssef) setup at Stureparken Studio in Stockholm. Ben Youssef, a fast-rising producer responsible for the previous Kel Assouf album and recent records by Algerian rai provocateur Sofiane Sadi and AMMAR 808. The recordings brilliantly reflect the strong collective heart of the band -- each musician supporting the album's propulsive, hypnotic purposes -- yet on many occasions stepping forward in thrilling ways. "Alyochan" is unimaginable without the motorik pulse of Penu's trance-like drumming. Ben Youssef's Hammond organ creates a gorgeous defining space (and an unresolved tension) throughout the long intro of "Ariyal". While Ag Haroun's guitar is often wrapped in distortion, on "Tamatan" he pulls things back, and with the help of Enoesque treatments, his guitar feels star bound and weightless.
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