Tinariwen - Crescent Ballroom - 4/22/2013
I couldn't understand a word Tinariwen were singing Monday night at Crescent Ballroom. I didn't know a single song, and there was no set list to cheat from -- and I couldn't find anyone to ask about it.
But I was completely blown away by the deep, rhythmic, heartfelt pulse of a music that draws from desert environs of northern Mali as well as the hardship and disenfranchisement the Tuareg have faced at the hands of the Malian government.
Some people call this music "desert blues," and there's some validity to the comparison, given the circumstances of the Tuareg and the bluesy feel of some of their slower guitar leads. But the reality is that this is also spiritual music, a blessed release and outpouring from the soul. Watching the band members' movements as they played -- or danced, as one of the vocalists did almost constantly -- it was clear the music was coming from inside.
So what did they play? Again: I don't know, exactly. But the sixth, eighth, and 11th songs, plus the second song of the encore, were simply mind-melting psychedelic desert gems. Lots of Malian music from the 1970s features rhythmic excursions into funk and soul, with outrageous guitar leads.
These songs touched on those familiar (for me) 1970s Afro psych wonders. It was a beautiful thing to hear: Wild guitar leads breaking down into heavy rhythmic patterns, before going off again while the rest of the band -- bass, djembe or calabash, second guitar, and harmonizing vocals -- pushed the pace to frenetic heights.