Etran de L’Air :: Agadez

Endless energy courses through Agadez, the second album by Etran de L’Air. It’s named for the city the band calls home, long an important center for the Tuareg people, a traditionally nomadic group that has produced some transcendent guitarists, including Tinariwen, Abdallah Oumbadougou, Mdou Moctar, and Les Filles de Illighadad. All electrify Tuareg stylings, fusing folk tradition with rock & roll sensibility. Etran is family band—formed over 25 years ago when current band leader Moussa “Abindi” Ibra was only 9 years old, steadily amassing hometown fans by playing weddings, sometimes walking 25 kilometers to desert parties. 

Etran’s 2018 debut, the live LP No. 1—released on Sahel Sounds—captured the joy conjured by the group’s musical playfulness. While Agadez ditches field recording for a mobile studio, the record plays no less spontaneous. There is a giddiness to Etran’s hymns, guitar riffs sneaking out from behind the band’s wall of sound and sliding back seamlessly into place. Each solo is eventually eclipsed by the whole, every song gathering power atop steady, rapid percussion. Though Tuareg-influenced music is often labeled “desert blues,” there are no 12-bars to be found on “Agadez.” The opener, “Imouwizla” (“Migrants”), begins with a hook-worthy guitar line quickly ensconced in echoes and haze. And though the song’s plaintive ring and conversational cadence suggests the blues, the relentless drums offer no formulaic resolution. 

“Imouwizla” is a song of wandering, of warning, a plea from the nomadic Tuareg people stateless in the wartorn Sahel:

A cry which comes from the herders of Libya and Algeria, you see.

Where are we going, we only roam the deserts

We follow our camels

And we perish between countries

On “Tahawerte Ine Idinette,” Etran plays with galloping, staccato drums. Depending on the rhythmic accents of the dueling guitars, the group opts either to emphasize the beat’s stutter or slip into a swing-like, dance-inducing groove. Like the best improvisations, you can hear the implicit conversations: between the band and an audience, and between the band members themselves. Take “Tarha Warghey Ichile,” an uptempo love song. The drumming grows frantic. Whoops escape from off-mic. It’s exhausting, exhilarating, the sort of song that ends with sweaty foreheads and wide smiles. | e weinstein

For Heads, by heads. Aquarium Drunkard is powered by its patrons. Keep the servers humming and help us continue doing it by pledging your support via our Patreon page.