On their fifth and most recent album, Tassili, North African Touareg band Tinariwen set aside their electric guitars for a more acoustic sound. During a show at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theatre this past September, however, they plugged in to perform “Cler Achel,” from their 2007 LP Aman Iman, with Flea and Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It wasn’t the first time that Tinariwen teamed up with an American band – in fact, they recorded some of Tassili with members of the New York-based TV on the Radio. The band kicks off a series of North American tour dates in June.
Celebrated North African Touareg band Tinariwen premiered a new video for their song “Isweigh Attay” off their Grammy nominated Anti-Records release Tassili earlier this week. The beautifully shot clip features the band performing the mournful and evocative song as they enact a ritualistic tea drinking ceremony sacred to their nomadic North African culture. The ceremony depicted involves green tea, fresh mint, lots of sugar and a meticulous preparation. When the first pot is drained, the process is repeated using the same tea leaves, but adding sugar. Then it’s done a third time. Tea is always brewed thrice. It’s a ritual as rigid and formal as a Japanese tea ceremony. The name of the three tea servings; the first is bitter as death, the second is sweet as life and the third is soft as love.
By the time the soundman got the mix right, which was about four songs into the set, a near-capacity crowd had climbed over numerous spilled drinks and filled every nook and cranny of the Belly Up to catch a proper vantage point of Saharan rebel rockers Tinariwen.
The band’s inspired journey from fighting in the Tuareg resistance against Mali and Niger in the early ’90s to captivating audiences with a barrage of guitars and hand drums in 2011 is reflected in their mantra “music is a weapon.” Like Bob Marleys occupying their own distinct time and space, the pure, peaceful message of these desert blues practitioners resonates with crowds who don’t speak a lick of Tamashek.
Tinariwen’s set began with the serpentine rhythms of “Imidiwan Ma Tennam,” the intro to their soon to be released Tassili, an acoustic album featuring contributions from Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio as well as Nels Cline of Wilco. Through songs old and new, the absorbing call-and-response among the band members spilled into the fervent handclaps of the audience in a recirocal display of positive energy that defined the night.
Tinariwen are a musical collective from Mali who have gained wide recognition for their brand of desert blues thanks to excellent albums and acclaimed performances at some of the world’s biggest festivals. Incorporating Algerian rai, Egyptian pop and Led Zeppelin, their last album, 2009’s Imidiwan, won an Uncut award for being “the most inspiring and richly rewarding album of the last 12 months.” This year, Tinariwen release their fifth album Tassili, and the first single, “Tenere Taqqim Tossam,” debuts here. Built around an undulating bassline and a spidery guitar figure, it features TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe whose vocal interplay on the chorus blends perfectly with the backing, enhancing but never transforming the song into anything other than a Tinariwen track.