The concert at Lisner Auditorium Saturday began with a sort of invocation, with one robed musician playing a flute and the rest chanting. The moment would have seemed ancient and traditional, except that four of the six performers in Tinariwen had electric guitars strapped around their necks.
Tinariwen is a group of Tuareg, or Tamashek (they prefer the latter term), tribespeople who first assembled when they were soldiers against the former government of Mali. Their now-ended rebellion took them through the deserts of Libya, Niger and Algeria, but their music suggests they also visited Chicago blues joints and New York punk clubs. While singer-guitarist Alhousseini "Abdallah" Abdoulahi and his cohort used the chattering rhythms and call-and-response vocals common in North African music, the crux of their style is the lurching, jostling, metallic sound of interlocking guitars.
The group drew on a variety of influences in addition to the Mali blues styles of Boubacar Traore and Ali Farka Toure. Such songs as "Amassakoul 'n' Tenere" incorporated Jimi Hendrix riffs, reggae bass lines and modal guitar vamps, as well as Spanish-style picking and traditional Arabic female trilling. The septet even did a rap tune, "Arawan.'' The result was sublime and joyous and had listeners dancing in the aisles.
-- Mark Jenkins