ALGERIA: Tenere - Afous D'Afous
Updated: Mar 17, 2021
Kader Tarhanine and co demonstrate their talents in this glorious Tuareg blues album and inadvertently shine a light on some of the oppression they face
In the 19th and 20th century, the so-called ‘Jewish Question/Jewish Problem’ arose across European society as political movements across the continent debated what should be done to the minority group. This, of course, devastatingly culminated in Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ as attempted genocide against the entire Jewish people took place. A rather similar phrase has echoed across Algerian society for many decades – the ‘Tuareg Problem’. One does not have to do much digging to find this recurring and rather worrying turn of phrase spoken or written about in a country where they make up a miniscule 0.36% of its total population. A New York Times article just two years after Algerian independence in 1962 explicitly references the phrase; whilst one would hope this narrative would be a relic of the past, the perception and treatment of the Tuareg remains hostile to this day.
“The rawness of the sound is evident, yet they seem to have a Western sensibility despite a lack of involvement from external figures.”
It is fair to say that the Tuaregs as a group are somewhat known for their rebellions. However, this perception is massively skewed and misinterpreted by the Algerians, as Tuareg rebellions have only taken place in Mali and Niger (where the majority of the Tuaregs live). In contrast, despite the steady increase in marginalisation and the shift to total minority status in their main hub of Tamanrasset, thanks largely to it serving as a place of refuge for Northern Algerians displaced in the civil war, the Tuareg in Algeria have remained for more supportive of their governance than their Tuareg cousins elsewhere in the Sahel.
This then makes the success of Tuareg rockers Afous d’Afous in Algeria, somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand it is fantastic that Tuareg music culture was able to enter the mainstream and gain all the plaudits it deserves, on the other one cannot help but get a sense of the wider Algerian population picking and choosing when the Tuareg are deemed ‘acceptable’ to them. As an outsider, it is hard to have a true understanding of the intricacies of the complex geopolitical situation in the region, however, one cannot help but be drawn towards wanting to root for the tiny minority, as fears arise that their beautiful culture could be destroyed if marginalisation continues.
Perhaps I am biased, and as such should politely decline my job offer as Secretary General of the UN as I have been drawn in by the wonderful music of Afous d’Afous. Coming to prominence in 2010 after the lead singer Kader recorded the best song on what eventually became the album Tenere. The track Tarhanine Tegla (My Love is Gone) is incredible, featuring an almost trance-inducing epic guitar sound and was such a success that the lead singer soon became affectionately known as Kader Tarhanine. Unlike most Tuareg rock outfits such as the previously reviewed Nigerian Tuareg artist Bombino, Afous d’Afous recorded their debut album five years later in their home country, rather than collaborating with Western producers outside of the region. The rawness of the sound is evident, yet they seem to have a Western sensibility despite a lack of involvement from external figures.
The album is perhaps at its best when it engages in the typical Tuareg musical patterns, namely its call-and-response choruses and the shredding of the electric guitar. The sextet, however, are able to produce a variety of catchy tunes all with differing qualities. There are superb dance tracks such as the title-track Tenere and Arhegh Danagh which could almost be described as R&B adjacent. Meanwhile, there are songs that begin with an almost ballad-like quality to them namely the final two tracks Aminidine and Imarhanin which features a lovely rhythmic playing of the Bousmaha Abdelkader’s djembe. Whilst the album obviously stands out for its grand guitar riffs, Abdelkader’s and Diali Abdalftaeh’s percussive involvement is crucial at setting the pace of the album.
There are some wonderful breezy summer tunes such as Houlaghine Akalin and Dounya Hi which enable its listeners to envisage the warmth of the sun gently shining upon their faces. The peak of this summer vibe is Wiyad Hallen, a track that follows a reggae beat that I just love, accompanied by Kader’s soulful voice. The range of styles and multi-layered instrumentation, all seem to follow a perfect recipe that makes most of their songs overtly memorable regardless of their unique quirks. The sound of the synth on the opening track Nak Amahah, adds a layer that makes the song particularly catchy without detracting from the general vibe of the album. Overall, it is a real shame that this album failed to gain a great deal of traction outside of the Tuareg diaspora and I would implore any readers to check it out. You won’t be disappointed.