Barry Cleveland: Tinariwen in San Francisco Micro Review (with Video from WOMAD)

June 12, 2012

Tinariwen, a guitar-driven band of desert nomads from North Africa, currently featuring Elaga Ag Hamid, Abdallah Ag Lamida, and Ibrahim Ag Alhabib on guitar and vocals, Eyadou Ag Leche on bass and backing vocals, and Said Ag Ayad on percussion and backing vocals. (Don't miss producer Ian Brennan's feature interview with Alhabib in the August 2012 issue of GP.) They performed on June 10 at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco as part of the SF Jazz 2012 Spring Season.
The Tuareg nomads originated from Mali for the most part, and the Malian guitar sound and style can certainly be heard in Tinariwen's music—but so can lots of other influences, from Middle Eastern to rock, blues, and even hip hop.
The music is often rhythmically complex (I was unable to ascertain the time on several songs), though largely improvised, and centered squarely on interlocking guitar parts, with soaring harmony vocals and tightly rhymed spoken sections that would give even the most rhythmically adept rappers pause. All this activity is grounded in rock-solid, trance-inducing grooves provided by Leche's bass work and Ayad's extraordinary djembe and gita (a bowl-like gourd drum) playing. 
But enough chatter. Here's video of the band's set at the 2004 WOMAD Festival:


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