Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Stage Review: Tinariwen

Their third album, Aman Iman (Water is Life), is their heaviest and best-selling release and this was the first night of the UK tour. On stage and on record, Tinariwen weave hypnotic lines of arresting simplicity and crackling power. As a group, their ensemble sound has become tighter and stronger since they first hit international attention via the first Festival of the Desert in 2001.

A concert platform in Guilford, Surrey, is a long journey from their home base in Kidal, northern Mali, but the ley lines of rock'n'roll stretch an awful long way. Tinariwen's North African roots, thickened since their formation in the early 1980s by the sound of battery-powered amps that almost breathe at you, are as binding as any contract.

Much has been made of Tinariwen's exotic in "otherness'' - and the back story is dramatic: exile, guerrilla training in Gaddafi's camps, the Sandinista-era Clash vision of rebel rockers with Kalashnikovs, causes and guitars. But the music - that is something everyone can understand.

It's the international festival of music and the Electric Theatre had cleared the floor for a standing-only gig, which is just what you want. The show begins with dry ice and a female vocal - a perfect illustration of Tinariwen's synthesis. Ibrahim, the group's most distinctive character, opens with a haunting solo number on an amplified acoustic guitar. And then the full group come on, Ibrahim in the centre, one of four guitarists, with a percussionist crouched at the front and the three chorus singers and hand percussionist to one side.
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