Album Review: Tarwa N-Tiniri – Akal (Atty Records; April 2024)

Words by Lucas Keen


Since their formation in 2012, the Berber band Tarwa N-Tiniri has been on a mission to “perpetuate the culture and dignity of desert peoples,” a generational responsibility summed up in their proudly Amazigh name.

Naturally, the desert looms large in their music and is referenced in the title of their new album, Akal (meaning ‘land’), which was recorded in the shadow of the dunes at the band’s house in the village of Hassi Labied, in Merzouga, Morocco.

Water (and its absence) are synonymous with the Sahara, so it’s fitting for the album to open with “Aghbalu” (The Lake), a brooding soundscape of layered guitars, scratchy fretboards, and shimmering piano, courtesy of Thijs Borsten (one of a handful of invited guests).

It’s music in widescreen, establishing the blueprint for the rest of the album, featuring duelling guitars, syncopated handclaps, and call-and-response singing led by guitarist and vocalist Hamid Ait Ahmed.

The journey continues with “Adu,” which shifts from a similarly séance-like quality to a bluesy shuffle with an unmistakable Saharan lope, all propelled by the drums of Youssef Ait Nacer, who switches between drum kit and calabash throughout the record.

There’s a beautiful lullaby quality to “Adrar,” which follows, a feeling of peace that can also be found on “Ahddawi” and “Chfna Chi Nas.”

The band also gives us reggae stylings on “Rokba,” where the guitars switch from long tones to a percussive “chuck,” and there’s some nice ululating on “Assrekd.”

Then on “Tenere,” it seems like guest vocalist Nukad is about to step forward… But then, she doesn’t. And this missed opportunity exemplifies where the album could be better.

Essentially, there’s a lot of empty space in the 13 songs of Akal where nothing much seems to be happening. This may be intentional, of course-non-desert dwellers often romanticise deserts as empty, and as previously discussed, the music Tarwa N-Tiniri proposes is wide and cinematic.

But could the band or producer Simon Walls have made more of these moments? Akal is a good record for sure, and a grounded one, but it never quite soars. With more arrangement, it could.


Akal is now available through Atty Records. Get your copy HERE