It's been only a decade since the core members of Tinariwen, who performed Thursday night at Lisner Auditorium, were in revolt against the government of Mali. Nowadays, the group expresses the travails of the nomadic Tuareg (or Tamashek) people with music that meshes traditional melodies with twangy electric guitars. The robed and turbaned musicians' material doesn't offer a lot of variety, but its loping rhythms and scratchy, scrambling timbres are exhilarating.
Tinariwen is a loosely aligned outfit, and only five of the 15 musicians featured on its latest album, "Aman Iman: Water Is Life," appeared at Lisner. In promotional photographs, bushy-haired Ibrahim Ag Alhabib usually stands at the center, but on this tour Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni led the band (as he did in 2004). By singing solo or playing acoustic guitar Spanish-style, Alhousseyni sometimes varied the group's sound. More often, however, he joined the communal clatter of such tunes as "Tamatant Tilay," a onetime war anthem that works just as well as an ecstatic dance song.
If the members of Tinariwen were once outcasts, their opening act was a consummate insider: Vieux Farka Touré is descended from generations of Malian nobility and is the son of the revered singer-guitarist Ali Farka Tour¿, who died last year. Yet the two acts proved both musically and personally compatible; Tinariwen bassist Eyadou Ag Leche joined the opener for one song, and later Touré added his guitar to the headliners' arsenal.
Tour¿ didn't sing much, ceding some of the occasional vocals to his quintet's percussionist. The 50-minute set was haphazardly paced and didn't encompass the stylistic range of his recent self-titled album, which features two duets with his father. Yet none of that mattered whenever Touré unloosed his guitar, playing fluid, eloquent solos.
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