Tal National is the most popular live act in the West African nation of Niger, and the band is ready to go global. Its third album, Kaani, is the first to get an international release, and it arrives just in time for the group's first U.S. tour.
The first thing that hits you when you listen to Tal National is the band's tightness and fiery energy; its guitar and percussion-driven grooves are bursting with exuberance.
The song "Wongharey" praises the fighters of Niger's history and thanks God that the country is at peace today. It is, but given the political tensions unfolding in West Africa these days, that peace is fragile. So it means a lot that Tal National includes members from all of Niger's major ethnic groups and creates songs in a variety of languages that celebrate the lives of their countrymen.
With a large, rotating lineup of multi-instrumentalists, this band is beloved in Niger for its epic live performances. The band's sound features shredding electric guitars, but it in no way mimics Western rock. The guitar tone is sharp and stinging, but the rhythms and melodies are rooted in local traditions; this really is African rock.
Tal National's leader, who goes by the name Almeida, has a somewhat surprising day job — he's been a judge for 20 years. Now, you might not want to have your case appear before a guy who plays five-hour concerts five nights a week, but based on this band's wisdom and openhearted vision for a peaceful, multiethnic Niger, I think I might just take that chance.