Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Empty Places

Tinariwen are another band that, if they bother to tour the US at all, would most likely only hit major cities such as New York or Chicago. Because I'm late in the game of discovering them, I'm only now beginning to gain an understanding of what gives their music such power: they're a Touareg group from the southern Sahara whose music is similar to that of Ali Farka Toure. The band's name means "empty places" which certainly reflects the condition of their homeland, both geographically (vast deserts) and politically (they were fighters in the Touareg insurgency against the Malian government). The band formed in 1982 in Colonel Ghadaffi's rebel camps, emotionally driven by the war and drought to express their plight in musical terms, invented a new style of music known as Tishoumaren in the process. They have combined traditional musical forms with a modern rock sensibility -- traditional instruments such as the teherdent lute and shepherd flute were discarded in favor of the electric guitar, electric bass and drums. Their music is loosely based on traditional Touareg music and the harsh melodies of the one-stringed Touareg violin, but also incorporate other western and middle eastern influences, which managed to penetrate that far into the desert. But enough talk--listen to Anassakoul N Tenere to hear why this band has gained a worldwide following. You can hear the centuries of struggle in the lead singer's raspy vocals, which are then lifted by the call-and-response motifs the rest of the band offers. It's not too far off the mark, I believe, to hear similarities in Tinariwen to that of the American Civil Rights-era blues and gospel music.

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