Prepare yourself because the Soul’d Out Music Festival is about to take you on a nomadic rite of passage into the musical world of the Sahara with trance inducing desert blues on April 15 at the Aladdin Theater.
Tinariwen, meaning deserts or empty spaces, is a rebel rock band from the Azawad region of the African nation of Mali. Since their formation in the late ‘70s, they have fought as freedom fighters for an autonomous desert homeland, forged a new style of music known as Tishoumaren (music of the unemployed), and, more recently, became Grammy winners along the way.
There is no way to prepare yourself for the journey you are about to take when you first listen to Tinariwen. A familiarity with American rock makes the music comforting while its traditional West African sound is so penetrating—it’s hard to accept the fact that these are the sounds of the forgotten people of the Sahara.
Tinariwen’s music has a tendency to take listeners directly into the heart of the desert. The ancient thumps of the tindé drum, rhythmic clapping and acoustic guitar can bring about a haunting feeling of vastness, while the eerie assouf style of electric guitar-driven riffs closely resembles the western world’s southern blues, bringing older artists like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters to mind. This may be the reason Tinariwen has caught the attention of artists such as Carlos Santana, Thom Yorke, Robert Plant, Bono and many more.
In 2011, they recorded their Grammy Award-winning album Tassili under the night sky of the Algerian desert with the help of TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone.
The complete biography of Tinariwen is too immersive and intriguing to possibly condense here, but it’s a beautiful read worth checking out. In it, bassist and singer Eyadou ag Leche explains: “We would like to live in peace in the north of Mali, but this is very difficult: There is no administration, no banks, no food, no gas.”
Forced out of their homeland due to political instability but still requiring a desert to record their music, the band chose a more amenable piece of scorched earth to lay down tracks for 2014’s Emmaar (a Tuareg word that means "the heat on the breeze"). “Joshua Tree is in the high desert of California. We love all the desert, these are places where we feel good to live and to create,” ag Leche says.
The sad romanticism of the band’s story is felt with force by their powerful stage presence. In true nomadic fashion, Tinariwen manages to carry a whole world of storytelling in their instruments and traditional Tuareg dress. For over a decade, they have toured the world over, never forgetting to impart the voice of their people and their plight.
Although their lyrics of political strife and personal suffering are delivered in their native Tuareg tongue, the powerful message is surprisingly not lost on listeners—and the storytelling is all the more powerful when translated into English:
The desert is mine
Tenere, my homeland
We come to you when the sun goes down
Leaving a trail of blood across the sky
Which the black night wipes out
The desert is hot and its water hard to find
Water is life and soul
To all my brothers I say, the desert is jealous!
—"Tenere Taqhim Tossam" featuring Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone (listen below)
The English afro-folk band The Melodic has been invited to soften your soul before your head-on journey into the wild. These rising stars have been able to beautifully blend folk, pop and world music into a well-crafted sound that should hold you over while you wait for the new Of Monsters and Men album to drop. If not for their accents, one could easily assume these quirky young musicians came straight out of Portland’s free boxes. Get to the Aladdin early to hear some catchy tunes that’ll sound right at home.
Do not miss this opportunity to be swept away! Tinariwen will transform the Aladdin Theater into a nearly unfathomable world on Tuesday, April 15.
Co-written with Tarek Kutay