Tinariwen: Magical, Beautiful and Difficult to Resist

March 25th, 2014

Tinariwen – Brooklyn Bowl – March 24, 2014

Tinariwen - Brooklyn Bowl - March 24, 2014
Tinariwen are one of those bands that can be all things to all people. There’s the Tinariwen as culmination of a fascinating backstory. There’s the Tinariwen as a metaphor. And, of course, most important, there’s Tinariwen the collective of musicians, playing excellent music all across the world. All of these were onstage at once Monday night at Brooklyn Bowl, and which one you saw was a purely personal experience, from the enthusiastic young guys chanting and waving flags to the middle-aged fans clapping along to the young Brooklynites dancing the night away.

The Malian music group seemed to know no boundaries, turning a brick-and-mortar bowling alley decorated with a disco ball and big screen TVs into a transcendental tent, orange and yellow lights of the desert on the ceiling, with room for all within. The set list drew largely from Tinariwen’s new album, Emmaar, and the musicians, and the words they sang, seemed to blur into a single communal experience. Electric guitars growled and moaned in helical patterns—was it with sorrow or was it with joy? Either or both or neither, you decide. With a popping electric bass and simple rhythmic percussion, this was mostly dance music: magical, beautiful, difficult to resist. The musicians clapping and twisting hypnotically felt just as vital to the experience as the musicians twisting the unique guitar solos, somewhere between Leo Nocentelli and Robert Johnson by way of the Sahara.

The encore encapsulated the night in three pieces: The first began with Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, alone, chanting and playing acoustic before the band slowly grew, duet, trio until all six played as one, with little boundary between Tinariwen and the audience. The second piece was the funkiest of the night, the electric bass speaking the international language of groove. Finally, the percussion-dominated closer was a rhythmic cacophony, the dancer onstage moving in increasingly faster and more complicated fashion—either he was forcing the band’s tempo or vice versa, but the crowd tried to keep up regardless. The night ended with smiles all round, free of boundaries, at least until the magic wore off. With a final bow, the band repeated the only English words they had uttered all night: “Thank you.” —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of JC McIlwaine |