When I entered the packed Highline Ballroom last night to watch the West-African group Tinariwen, I didn’t know what to expect exactly. This band of Tuareg nomads, who sing in the Tamashek language, draw on traditional Tuareg music and West-African blues guitar (think Ali Farka Touré) to create soaring, trance-inducing aural trips.
I’d heard the intensely beautiful record Aman Iman: Water is Life, released earlier this year, but wasn’t sure how the songs would translate to a New York venue, especially since Tinariwen boasts more than 30 members at its largest when performing in the Sahara region, but brings a smaller crew abroad.
Though the record includes a chorus of male and female voices, the touring group included five men: Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni (Guitar), Touhami Ag Alhassane(Guitar), Eyadou Ag Leche (Bass), Said Ag Ayad (Percussion) and Abdallah Ag Lamida (Guitar). Dressed in the long flowing tunics, veils and head cloths common to West Africa, their striking appearance enhanced their already powerful stage presence. And the audience quickly became swept up in the polyrhythms and perfectly played combination of electric and acoustic guitars until the whole crowd was dancing and swaying, hypnotized. After a set that lasted a little more than an hour, Tinariwen returned to the stage for three encores, obliging the enthusiastic throngs who begged for more. And afterwards, I walked home blissed out, unable to stop smiling.
If you missed the show last night, Tinariwen will play an acoustic in-store set tonight at 8 p.m. at Other Music (15 E. 4th St.).
Photo by Richard Stafford