Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
If a concert was simply based on the verbal interaction between band and fan, then the sold-out show of Tinawiren would have been deemed not so great. After all, saying, "Thank you," "thank you very much and "merci beaucoup" and pretty much nothing else would not be labeled as very satisfying.
And that would be severely misjudging the GRAMMY-award winning Taureg band from northern Mali. One could assume that the band mates' comfort with English is very limited.
But as for there was no barrier whatsoever when it came to the music itself. The long-running band, which formed in 1979, served up a stew of so-called desert blues, West African guitar sounds with spikey, piercing lines running throughout the songs, rock and a bit more amidst a generally propulsive beat.
The "bit more" also included the colorful look of the band with most dressed in satin, loose fitting robes and wearing a turban-like head covering.
Tinawiren sported three main vocalists – group founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Hassan Ag Touhami and Sanou Ag Ahmed - and there was little differentiating between them in quality. And at times, it appeared that five of the six band members were singing too to create a full sound. Singing in their native Tamashek, it was not all that clear what they were singing about.
No matter though because the taut guitar work brought set the hypnotic groove time and again with the songs often lasting five or six minutes. The sextet often settled in with repeating lines before sometimes coming to a quick, sudden end.
Percussionist Said Ayad, playing the calabash, maintained a most steady beat throughout the 95-minute show. And then there was the dancing by Touhami - rhythmically moving and grooving to the music, sometimes wildly sometimes slowly, further engaging the audience, who clapped along at times as well to set the beat. With Tinawiren musically and visually engaging, it was not hard to get feet moving.
In the hands of Tinawiren, music was most definitely an international language.