Tinariwen’s six members appear on stage, at least as they did Saturday night in Carrboro, accompanied by the rustle of traditional Taureg-Berber robes, the flash of red electrical guitars and the pop of hand drums.
Such juxtaposition should give some clue as to the worlds that collide within the band’s music: Tinariwen’s members are Malian, but the group’s founders met in Libyan refugee camps in the late 1970’s. The Taureg are a group of desert nomads, a small minority that is well-versed in resistance since before beginning of Africa’s nation-building.
The band’s music is often described as “desert blues,” but the late Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure fits that description much better. Where Toure was grit, Tinariwen is grace. Assouf—which is described as nostalgia or spiritual seeking—is a central concept in Tinariwen’s sound. But the minor keys that dominate the band’s music are more lofty than earthy blues themes.
On stage, the band members passed guitars among each other and took turns dancing in the same campfire traditions that birthed this music, more transcendence than resistance. Those dances consisted of lateral swoops of cloaked arms and swift flicks of the wrist, as if sadness were a thing not so difficult to shake off.
Tinariwen sang in a language that is foreign to me. They sang of a lifestyle I do not understand. And yet the great expanses of the desert, its loneliness—Tinariwen bring them home.