Tinariwen at UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall

Posted on in Art + Soul by Felicitas Vallot

April 1, 2017

The Sahara is one of the most unmerciful environments on this planet, where nomads of the Tuareg battle heat, winds, and civil strife. Tinariwen, the Grammy Award–winning group formed in 1979, brought this uncompromising edge with them to the newly renovated UC Theatre on University Avenue in Berkeley, lulling a sold-out crowd into their far-flung place of struggle—and garnered repeated standing ovations in the process.

Founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who at 4 witnessed the execution of his father during a 1963 uprising, the band’s name appropriately means “empty places.” Having been forced to abandon their nomadic Malian lifestyle for involuntary military service under Colonel Gaddafi, the band coalesced as a collective amid rebel camps. Their sound is guitar-driven in the style known as assouf, which has its roots in West African traditional melodies and rhythms, including those played on the shepherd’s flute, the tindé drum, and a lute known as the teherdent. The amplified Western guitar influence creates an intensity you might find in a Carlos Santana / Jimi Hendrix / Mark Knopfler / Tom Verlaine mash-up.

Tinariwen has caught on with the world-music literati, so do catch them next time you get a chance. Their concert inspires one to travel nomadically without permission to settle down. By performance’s end, one is left in silence—that deliciously empty place of no more searching after restlessness and rebellion—a place reminiscent of far-traveled winds that defy comfort yet scream of hard-fought freedom and possibility.


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