Tinariwen, the talented ensemble of musicians from Northern Mali, have been together for some 30 years. But lately they've become increasingly popular in the U.S., and their fusion of electric blues with native folk sounds has earned them props from Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Robert Plant, Bono, and also scored them high-profile slots at fests like Bonnaroo and Glastonbury. (If you haven't seen their absolutely mesmerizing live shows, do yourself a favor: go!)
On their next album Tassili (out August 30), Tinariwen unplug their electric guitars for a rootsier collection of grooves, but they continue to flirt with their interest in American sounds on collaborations with TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. There's also a stunning track "Imidiwan Ma Tennam" featuring Wilco guitarist Nels Cline - SPIN has the premiere here.
Tinariwen and Cline crafted the song separately on two different continents. The group worked up basic groove in Algeria, while Cline recorded his parts in Wilco's Chicago Loft studio. Cline's producer Ian Brennan says the guitarist's concept was to "be like a UFO landing in the desert," which pretty much sums up Cline and Tinariwen's perfect pairing.
"I gave them a few choices, including 'lead' guitar tracks (as asked for), but what they ended up using is a track of looped drone that I thought could be a background sound," Cline tells SPIN. "Though it may disappoint some folks expecting some sort of 'blazing' licks from me, I am pleased that the Tinariwen guitar thing is completely unsullied, and the track is, like the whole album, monstrously good, I think!"