Forced into exile from their home in Northern Mali by extremists’ targeting of musicians in 2013, the band recorded their last studio album, Emmaar, in California. This Paris concert on December 13, 2014 was the final stop on their world tour of over a 130 performances. Given Mali was a former French colony, and the band is fluent in French, this was as close to a home coming as they’ll have for a while.
The title of the album, Oukis N’Asuf, which means to take away, forget, or get over heartache and longing, is only fitting for a band in exile – especially a band like this whose music is so tied in with their culture and their native desert environment. Making this title even more poignant is the fact they were joined on stage for this concert by one of the matriarchs of Tamashek music and culture, Lalla Badi. Not only is Badi a singer of traditional tinde, a type of song named for the drum used to accompany it and sung by women, but she provided the band with a home base when they were just starting out.
Fittingly, the recording opens with a song featuring Badi, “Tinde Tinariwen”. Traditionally these songs were performed by women accompanied only by percussion – both drums and hand claps. Here the band’s electric bass lays down the initial rhythm and is joined by a chorus of male voices. This is joined by youyous, cries and handclaps, and then, rising over top as rough and ancient-sounding as the desert itself, Badi’s voice soars into song. For over seven minutes the steady sound of the bass, drum, hand claps and male voices maintain their mesmerizing backdrop as she chants/sings her words.
In this opening, we hear the inspiration for Tinariwen’s style of desert blues – the steady, almost trance-inducing rhythms overlaid by biting electric guitar and lyrics alternatively sung and chanted. While Badi only joins them twice more during the course of the CD – on track six,”Tinde Part 1″, and the 12th and final track, “Tinde Final Tinariwen” – her influence is felt throughout the entire album.
While the music and the performances are tight and professional as befits a band of their experience and talent, there’s also a spontaneity to the performance which makes it feel as if we’ve wandered into an impromptu jam session. With founding members – Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni and Alhassane Ag Touhami – having played together since the 1980s, and the newer members – Eyadou Ay Leche, Elaga Ag Hamid and Said Ag Ayad – having grown up listening to them before joining in the ’90s, the band operates as a seamless unit.
Tinariwen have long been repositories of Tamashek culture and their people’s ambassadors to the rest of the world. On this night in Paris, the combination of their music and the traditional sounds of Badi not only showed how capable they are of playing both roles, it also made it an electrifying and captivating experience at the same time. Tinariwen are living proof traditions don’t have to be hide bound or museum pieces. They can evolve and grow to meet the challenges of new times. Live in Paris, Oukis N’Asuf is an album of great music by an exciting band and as good a concert disc as any you’ll ever hear.
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