Glass reviews … Tinariwen at Electric Brixton, London

IT’S hard to see the bright side of things when political unrest surrounds us, however in this rare occasion it seems to have brought together something great – Tinariwen, and band whose members bonded over their experience of war in Mali. Combining dreamy American influenced guitar with West African folk, Tinariwen capture their heated upbringing in the Sahara with their atmospheric live show.

They’ve gone on to create endless music for the past 15 years regardless of their ever-changing lineup, and their very special gig at the Electric Brixton was no exception.

Tiniwaren at Brixton Electric - LondonTiniwaren at Brixton Electric, London

Playing a solid mixture of old and new material, the band played songs from their most recent album Elwan as well as songs from their successful Grammy winning album Tassili.

Musical build-ups are a common theme with Tinariwen as guitars and vocals layered over each other consistently, but it’s the participation of the hand drum that truly set the heartbeat for the night. Rhythm flowed from the stage straight into the audience as heads and arms were seen moving loosely across the crowd. This may have been influenced by the band members, who often danced with their hands during intervals.

The end of each song often felt like an abrupt wake up call as the guitars and chanting cast over like a sleepy trance – you have the urge to snooze and return to the dreamy guitar jam for a few more minutes. Vocals and guitar riffs were played in turn without the complication or overuse of looping. Each sound was shared by band members who alternated solos and fills.

Tiniwaren at Brixton Electric - LondonTinariwen. Photograph: Richard Gray

A lot of the set maintained a dreamlike quality and I believe it had a lot to do with the lyrics being foreign to most of the crowd. Despite the language barrier, Tinariwen’s powerful performance energy translated into something far more emotional as the band evoked a huge sense of peacefulness even though most of their songs root from melancholic experiences of war. Even with moments of seriousness, clapping is always welcome at the gig and was warmly encouraged by the band.

A state of calm washed over the audience for the encore when the singer took to stage with nothing but himself and his guitar. Yet another religious experience is had as everyone in the room is silenced in awe of the light fingerpicking. Not long after, the rest of the bandmates rejoined, bursting into a noisy chaotic chorus which drew the night to an uplifting end.

Culture filled the south London venue that night as we were honoured to bear witness to a hybrid of languages and the sight of a band dressed in their traditional robes and cloth turbans. Everything from the performance boasted passion and truth, and it’s these qualities that make Tinariwen a truly unique band.

by Katrina Mirpuri