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Tinariwen On 'Emmaar'

Okayafrica caught up with Tinariwen in the lead-up to 'Emmaar,' one of their most comprehensive, contemplative and layered offerings yet.


In so many ways, Tinariwen’s music is the shifting desert that is their home—guitar melodies swirl like dust devils across the Sahara, a single lead note occasionally shines forth like a campfire glowing on the horizon, reverberant percussion lines and entrancing call-and-response vocals mirror the vastness of a desert night sky. The members of Tinarwen, part of an ethnic group of nomadic pastoralists from North Africa called the Tuareg (aka Kel Tamashek), know how vital the ground they stand on is to the music they create.

For this reason, their best material has been recorded at home in the desert. They recorded their first offering, Radio Tisdas Sessions, at a Tuareg radio station in a small commune in northern Mali called Kidal. They recorded their 2011 album, Tassili, in an outdoor, constantly moving studio in southeastern Algeria. So it is easy to imagine how difficult it was for the band to not be able to record their latest album Emmaar at home, due to the after-effects of an Islamist occupation that is still sending shockwaves through the region. It is easy to imagine the trepidation they must have felt to record in another desert, more than 6000 miles away, in Joshua Tree, California.

Maybe it was the national park’s storied history of creative inspiration, or perhaps the desert air reminded the band of home, but the relocation has done nothing to distort or dilute Tinariwen’s sound. If anything, the unrest at home—which among other tragedies, saw music outlawed for some time and a band member apprehended for trying to retrieve his guitars—has served as extra inspiration. Emmaar is one of Tinariwen’s most comprehensive, contemplative and layered offerings yet.

Like all of Tinariwen’s work, Emmaar is a piece that you can space out to and allow yourself to be transported. But it’s even more rewarding to zone in, focusing on a single part—the way a pinky is moved to add a glissando to a repeated guitar phrase or the subtleties of Said Ag Ayad’s calabash and djembe rhythms. These songs are not stationary or one-dimensional. Rather, they morph over time and over repeated listens.

If at first the album seems more restrained and laid back, it is because contemplative musical poems outnumber the up-tempo clap-alongs that Tinariwen is known for. But meditative tracks like the opener “Toumast Tincha,” the interlocked vocal and guitar melodies of “Arhegh Danagh” and the dancing-in-molasses groove of “Imidiwan Ahi Sigdim” contain the same intensity as the album’s faster tunes, like the galloping triplets of “Chaghaybou” and the straight-ahead rock of “Koud Edhaz Emin.” The spirit of this album exists in the spaces in between notes and the underlying tension of its quietness. The album is full of potential energy growing in whispers until releasing in brief explosive moments of wailing guitars and group vocals that, even in a foreign tongue, encapsulate the struggles of a displaced and ancient nomadic culture.

Emmaar, like its predecessor Tassili, contains a host of American collaborators. Poet and hip-hop artist Saul Williams opens the album in an ethereal baritone, the guitars of Chavez’s Matt Sweeney and Red Hot Chili PeppersJosh Klinghoffer swell in and out throughout the album, and Nashville fiddler Fats Kaplin sounds right at home in “Imdiwanin ahi Tifhamam.” Collaborations like this— one-off jams with a band that has been perfecting its craft for decades— can be dangerous. Countless acts have made the blunder of adding guests for the sake of star power. But Tinariwen has yet to fall into this crossover trap. Emmaar is still very much the sound of ancient Tuareg musical traditions being sent through a host of turned-up electric guitars.

During a break from a week of album promotion, vocalist/acoustic guitar player Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni talked to Okayafrica in his Midtown hotel room about recording far from home, the political situation in northern Mali and the uncertainty of future plans, all while noodling on a new Martin & Co. guitar.

(interview on page 2)

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Pictures courtesy of Maeva Heim

Maeva Heim is the Founder the Beauty Industry Has Been Waiting on

The 31-year-old founder of Bread Beauty Supply is changing the conversation around haircare for textured hair.

It's nearing 9 p.m. in Australia, and Maeva Heim is dimly lit from behind and smiling warmly at her computer screen, ready to talk shop. We're here to discuss hair care, namely her brand Bread Beauty Supply, and how black beauty has made the globe smaller.

The 31-year-old is the founder of Bread Beauty Supply, a haircare line that encourages all textures and curl patterns to come as they are. "We don't want to tell you what to do with your hair. Enough people do that already," Heim says of Bread's brand philosophy. "We are just here to provide really good products for whatever you want to do with your hair at any point and not dictate to you how things should be. We're just women making the good products. You're making the good hair, and that's it. We're not here to define the rules."

But it's impossible to talk about recent strides in beauty products for textured hair without talking about the summer of 2020. In the weeks following the murder of George Floyd in the United States, a crescendo of cries rallied through global streets asking for not just equality but equity. The world watched with scrutiny as black boxes filled social feeds and brands made pledges to diversity. Those calls pinged from executive boards to the shelves of some of the world's largest beauty retailers. Meanwhile, after years of formulation, fundraising, and perfecting formulas and ingredients during a global pandemic, Maeva Heim introduced Bread beauty to the world in a perfect storm of timing and execution. The July 2020 launch filled a wide gap for Black beauty between homemade beauty products and behemoth beauty brands as Heim focused on an often under-explored direct-to-consumer middle.

Lauded on social media for their innovative packaging and nostalgic scents (the brand's award-winning hair oil smells like Froot Loops), Bread is a brand that makes hair care basics for not-so-basic hair. Typically, women with textured hair have not been included in the conversations around the idea of "'lazy girl hair" with minimal and effortless maintenance and styling - something Heim wanted to change. Part of Bread's mission is deleting category terms from the brand language – e.g. 'anti-frizz — that the brand feels unnecessarily demonizes characteristics that are natural to textured hair.

Photo courtesy of Bread Beauty

Born and raised in Peth, Western Australia, to an Ivorian mother and a French father, Heim grew up as one of the few Black kids in her neighborhood. Her days weaved between school and helping her mother run her braiding salon, one of the only of its kind in 1990's Australia. From sweeping floors, answering phones, and assisting with product orders, Heim's introduction to the world of beauty was rooted in the practice of doing.

Heim would go on to study business and law at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, before working in marketing at L'Oréal, followed by an internship at Procter & Gamble in Singapore. But it wasn't until her relaxer exploded in her luggage during a flight between New York and Chicago that she began to think seriously about not only her personal hair journey but also about the beauty industry's gaps.

After ditching chemical hair-relaxer and returning to her natural texture, she pitched her idea to Sephora and, in 2019, was selected as one of the first-ever Australian participants in the Sephora Accelerate program, securing a launch deal for both in-store and online.

But what's most striking about Heim, aside from her penchant for focusing on the brand and the consumer, is her focus on the innovation gaps for Black beauty products. Uniquely shy on social media but poignantly focused on every nuance of her brand and serving Bread's prior overlooked customer base, Maeva is the founder the beauty world has been waiting for.

*This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity

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