Tinariwen - Musical Instrument Museum - 4/21/2014
Glenn BurnSilver Tinariwen played the Musical Instrument Museum on April 21.
I have never been to Mali, my toes have only touched the edge of the mighty Sahara sands, and yet the connection to these Tuareg desert nomads was instantaneous and moving. The entire audience was transported to another world, where Tamashek is spoken and the pace of live is slower and more challenging. On this night, that was a great place to be.
Tinariwen, dressed in traditional robes that covered much of the face, opened the show with an a cappella chant accompanied on the by the faintest bass, percussion on calabash and hand claps. It was intense, and in many ways set the tone for the evening. Indeed, the music played during the 100-minute performance was heavy, passionate, moving, joyous, riveting, penetrating, hypnotic and uplifting -- often all at the same time. Songs typically began will a slow build, a deeply resonating guitar pattern that gradually grew in strength as the band joined in with multiple harmonies, hand claps, percussion and bass, adding complexity among the new layers.
When Tinariwen first made major musical waves in the United States in 2007, the group was often lumped into the "desert blues" category along with the likes of the well-known (at least somewhat known) Ali Farke Toure. While Toure's music was more a singular guitar style of leads over traditional Malian rhythms, Tinariwen piles on the little bits -- shouts, claps, second guitar lines, guttural bass -- that moves the music beyond such simple categorization. Yes, this music carries that bluesy edge, in part because the band formed as a means of protesting the Malian governments' repression of the Tuareg people, (and maybe because what we Americans call blues hails from West Africa, so we want/need to make that connection), but really this music is about celebrating life, even in the most difficult of times. It's time to drop the genrefication.
Songs from the most recent album, Emmaar, filled the early part of the show, warming up the crowd with some of the "mellower" acoustic material. Tracks from Tassili -- which won a 2012 Grammy Award for Best World Music Album -- Aman Iman and Imidiwan: Companions were interspersed the rest of the way.