BY MARK JENKINS
Tal National hails from Niger, home of Bombino and Etran Finatawa, but the chattering polyrhythms and call-and-response vocals of the sextet’s exhilarating Kaani are familiar from dozen of West African acts. What distinguishes the group’s first U.S. (and third overall) release are its jabbing, coiling guitars. Their counterpoint is sharp and insistent, primal and edgy, with a reliance on jittery 12/8 meter. Wipe the vocals from such tunes as “Banganeseba” and the result could be termed “math rock” — although the techno-inclined might call it “trance.”
Led by Hamadal “Almeida” Moumine, a teacher and judge as well as regular performer, Tal National comprises only two guitarists, two drummers, a singer and a dancer. But nine other musicians, including two bassists and two additional guitarists, also appear on the album. None of them plays keyboards and horns, which are common in more Westernized Afro-rock but unnecessary for this band’s boldly minimalist style.
In its dedication to guitar and voice above all, Tal National recalls Tinariwen, who hail from a nearby section of northern Mali. Both groups occasionally switch to a reggae beat, but Tinariwen’s mode is generally more loping and slip-slide-ery. Tal National’s music is so metallic and staccato that it suggests Konono No. 1, the Congolese troupe that chimes exuberantly on metallophones fashioned from junkyard scrap. Unison chants (“Kaani”) and stray bursts of percussion (“Nouvel”) punctuate the multi-lingual songs, but the dominant timbre is a delicious, delirious clang.
DOWNLOAD: “Kaani,” “Banganeseba,” “Nouvel”