Tinariwen, Brooklyn Bowl – March 23, 2014

Everyone celebrated because we were in the same place with the opportunity to communicate. The audience did not know the language that the band, Tinariwen, writes and sings in. The band spoke no English beyond “Thank you so much” and “Is OK?” The crowd roared every time they asked. There were few rock trappings: no singalongs, no long guitar solos, no crowd-pleasing covers. We felt the meaning in the swirling and bending guitars, the pulsing bass, the gourd percussion, and endless handclaps.

Well, dance also played a part. Hassan Ag Touhami was one of the few band members who made his face visible, and as he smiled and undulated in his copper-colored robe and black cheche, he waved his hands as if to say “come join me!” He stopped dancing only when he had to sing.

Tinariwen’s songs are based on traditional Toureg music, unlinked to Western blues and rock. But the resemblances are shocking. The band sings in chorus and sometimes they stay on one chord for a long, long time, giving some tunes the feel of Lower Mississippi field hollers. One song had a hook so similar to Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” that it was eerie. “Toumast Tincha” has snaky, Allman Brothers-ish guitar lines and bassist Eyadou Ag Leche even flips a right-handed guitar so he can play as a lefty, as Albert King did. But the link isn’t formal. It comes from the elemental, unconscious way sound can move us. It’s deeper than song or even language.

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