MOJO , Desert Storm >>
Elysée Montmartre, Paris
Got live if you want it: the Sahara Desert’s premier rockers and camel herders give Paris les bleus.
THERE IS a little problem with bands of nomads. How do you get them to turn up in Paris on the right day?
Two years on from The Radio Tisdas Sessions, and with a second album, Amassakoul, approaching, Tuareg bluesmen Tinariwen are on the move. Nomads don’t get sick of life on the road: one day, a van; the next, a tour bus; day after, camels. Or in the case of their two leaders, Ibrahim and Mohammed Le Japonais, today, camels.
Tinariwen are a collective of around 10 members, so the non-appearance of their elders is no big deal, like expecting Mick ‘n’ Keef and getting Bill Wyman. Instead, the younger bucks cut loose: Elaga, looking every bit as nervous as somebody playing only his second gig should, is a rock on rhythm guitar; Abdallah Ag Al-Housseini, stepping into the spotlight for this tour, dominates on lead guitar and bass.
But why would these guys show nerves? Warriors by habit, rebels by nature, trained in guerrilla tactics by Gaddafi. They learned their trade, the desert blues, charging at the Malian army with a guitar in one hand and a rifle in the other. Parisian music fans have no defence against their three guitars, bass and a single drum attack. Two of the guitars are playing separate rhythms, the drummer underpins everything, female vocalist Mina adds another rhythm on handclaps, and the bass and third guitar joust for solo space. As if concentrating on that is not enough, Mina wants us to clap along, but it’s simply too difficult to pick out one rhythm and follow it.
Got Love If You Want It is the only song that is instantly recognizable, though, I swear, Smokestack Lightening was in there too. ‘Cept, of course, it wasn’t. Tinariwen only play traditional tunes (lyrics reworked during the Gaddafi days to inspire insurrection) adapted for guitar, and it is this twist that puts them up there with their Delta brothers and Ali Farka Touré. The blues, you see, might only be the blues because they are played on a six-string guitar rather than an ancient Malian monochord.
You would rather want to discuss cultural appropriation further, but as the band obscure their faces behind their eryhuit headdresses and begin a song they claim to be traditional, but which sounds like straight ahead rap, the idea of questioning authenticity with a tribe of warriors seems like a bad one. Better to put your head down and soak up their relentlessly funky boogie. If there is one thing we learnt from Boy’s Own adventure comics, it’s that you cross a Taureg at your own risk.And next time, the promise, they are going to bring their A-team. Until then, their reserves are just about the best blues experience this far north of the Sahara. 02/01/04