Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

DVD Review: Tinariwen – Live in London

Many of the Malian Tuareg rockers in Tinariwen are freedom fighters, heroes to their compatriates, especially in the diaspora. Frontman and group founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib served in the Tuareg resistance for many years, notably as driver for rebel leader Iyag Ag Ghali, leading numerous successful raids against predatory government troops. When Alhabib was a young child, his father was murdered by the government; Alhabib subsequently was forced into exile in Algeria. Aside from finding reliable food and shelter, his first motivation for joining the Libyan-supported rebels was revenge. But soon he discovered that the guitar is mightier than the sword.

 

Alhabib founded Tinariwen – meaning “deserts” in his native Tamashek language – as a trio in the late 70s. There were no Tuareg newspapers in the desert, but there were cassette players, and Tinariwen’s music – just as Chuck D said about rap in 1988 – became its own version of CNN for their own frequently persecuted countrymen. Most of their lyrics are in Tamashek, and surprisingly, not frequently dedicated to either revenge or politics, instead updating centuries-old, mystical desert songs or simply longing for return to a long-lost land. Like everything else the band seems to do, they are resolute and defiant, transcending any potential use as propaganda. The music on the full-length concert section of their new DVD most closely resembles a more intricately arranged version of the desert blues popularized by the late great Ali Farka Toure and then Boubacar Traore. A sense of forebearance pervades everything: the songs unwind slowly and hypnotically, rarely changing chords, rarely reaching any kind of crescendo. It’s not loud music, perhaps as a matter of taste for the band, perhaps because in the desert, there is no electricity: guitarists use car batteries to power their amps, and if you’re going to jam all night (as can be the case), you have to conserve and keep the volume down.

 

The Tuaregs, like the Roma in Europe and the Indians here, are commonly associated with witchcraft, something that Alhabib is not shy about alluding to, if only as a defense mechanism when dealing with those in the ethnic majority. Perhaps as a result (or perhaps because those all-night desert jams tend to be fueled by ganja as much as by battery juice), there’s an otherworldly feel to Tinariwen’s music. Recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon in a suitably dodgy London neighborhood, the DVD is filmed in the classic 60s/early 70s music doc style, lots of close-ups of fingers and fretboards. What jumps out at the viewer first is that while there are sometimes seven or eight people onstage, the sound is strikingly clean and uncluttered. Nobody’s soloing over anyone else, in fact, no one is usually soloing at all. The busiest player is the bassist, and unless you have your DVD hooked up to a good stereo system (very highly recommended, because the stereo quality of the DVD is excellent), he’s very low in the mix.

 

What else is immediately obvious is that this is lyrically-driven music: the crowd know a lot of the lyrics and sing, or at least chant along. Taken as as whole (other than a brief and very well-received departure into hip-hop on the second song of the show), it seems like a long invocation, a secret rite that feels almost voyeuristic to watch, at least through western eyes. World music fans will devour this: if, as their label asserts, Tinariwen are the world’s favorite African band, this will secure their spot at the top. .

 

An interview with Alhabib – in heavily Tamashek-accented French, with excellent English subtitles – is also included. Dour and frequently inscrutable – given his past, this is hardly unexpected – he lightens up the most when the topic of his native land comes up. Yet as much as he seems to long for a permanent return to his country, he also seems resigned to life on the road, playing in front of thousands of westerners who don’t understand a single word but find common ground in the stoically hypnotic, slowly undulating music underneath. There’s also a very informative seven-minute interview with producer Justin Adams – in English – as well as a brief  – and also very informative! – demonstration on how to tie a shesh, the headscarf that the Tuaregs use to keep the sun off the head and the desert sand out of the mouth.

Advertisements

February 25, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.