Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Tinariwen at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 4/24/09

The sold-out club was treated to a show mostly reprising the self-described “most popular African band in the world”‘s fascinating, spikily hypnotic new dvd Live in London.What was most striking about Tinariwen’s show was how lyrically-driven their songs are. There was plenty of improvisation, but most of it was carefully, patiently cached in the nooks and crannies of their intricately meandering songs: all indications to the contrary, the expat Malian Tuareg rockers are not a jam band. One can only wonder what these guys have been thinking, singing in their native Tamashek to American audiences: they could be saying “Bite me,” over and over and nobody would know the difference. Reputedly their lyrics have the same fiery and fearless, politically-charged fury as the Clash along with a generous dash of desert mysticism. As with the dvd, they opened quietly as a trio with the song Chet Boghassa, one of the guitarists holding down a steadily rhythmic one-chord pattern over which the starkest of guitar sketches could be drawn before bringing up the full six-piece contingent. Resplendent in their desert robes and shesh headcoverings, they delivered the songs methodically without much interplay with the crowd. On a few occasions, members of the band (especially the bassist, who proved to be most gregarious, and something of a ham) would make a tentative inquiry in French to see if they could connect with anyone. Not much response, and no fellow Tuaregs in the house either (their diaspora is mostly urban European).

 

As with their big inspiration Ali Farka Toure, chord changes are few and far between in Tinariwen’s music, meaning that dynamics are everything, not only volume-wise but notably in the attack and sustain of the band’s mosaic of sound. On a couple of occasions, once merely as an aside while tuning up, one of the guitarists showed off remarkably blazing speed with a handful of almost bluegrass runs up the scale. Otherwise, the group and the songs formed a cohesive whole, the bassist taking the longest solo of the night, all of twelve cascading, smartly chosen, bluesy notes to end one of the more driving numbers. The most overtly bluesy, western-influenced number, Assawt N’Chet Tamashek, was held back just a hair enough to keep it from careening into a mad stomp, the percussion echoing the bouncy edginess of the guitars. The rest of the show was a dusky clang, overtones quickly rising and then just as quickly fading as the resonance died. Their guitar sound is very 1960s, and on a single occasion one of the players quickly tossed off a tongue-in-cheek Mike Bloomfield lick, perhaps to see if anybody else would be in on the joke.

 

Hassan Hakmoun opened with a very brief, four-song set which was absolute heaven for fans of low frequencies, playing a loudly amplified sintir (Moroccan three-string bass lute) and backed only by his longtime percussionist. Playing with his thumb, Hakmoun would find a phrase and run it over and over again while the percussion crackled and sparkled above the booming atmospherics. Then he’d slap at the strings like an American funk bassist, which proved far less interesting. He’s starting a restaurant in the East Village (424 E 9th) named after his instrument, grousing about how much the local block association “just wants to see you suffer,” but apparently Sintir has won out and will be opening soon.

 

The concert’s only drawback was completely beyond control of the bands. Some moron in the far corner felt compelled to whistle at earsplitting volume whenever there was the slightest pause, or the music got quiet (this is not a Tuareg custom). We ought to amend the law to allow amnesty for those of us who might be tempted to exercise vigilante justice on fools like that.

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April 27, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Must make a correction – this was NOT Tinariwen’s New York debut or their first tour here; they’ve played New York and toured North America several times so they’re plenty used to Western audiences. Also Tinariwen is one of quite a few bands from the southern Sahara region (sometimes called “desert blues” bands) working this musical territory, so what they’re doing is not as left-field as the review implies. Examples: Group Doueh from Western Sahara is about to tour in Europe, and if all goes well Terakaft – which has kinship links to Tinariwen – will be in NYC this autumn.

    Comment by Rob W | May 8, 2009 | Reply

  2. thanks for the correction. Terakaft and also Toumast – reviewed here last fall – are excellent. Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara also have a new cd coming out this smmer with a similar feel, watch this space…

    Comment by lc | May 8, 2009 | Reply

  3. Worth noting that Ibrahim ag Alhabib, the main songwriter of the band, was absent. And yes I agree with Rob, Tinariwen takes its inspiration right from the Kel Tamashek roots. This sound has been explored by quite a few bands.
    Anyway, great concert! Hope to see them again soon!

    Comment by NR | August 22, 2009 | Reply


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