It took me about three years to have the chance to meet Tinariwen on a stage again.
The second time was a show at London Koko that the lack of security allowed me to photograph in its entirety, lots of films used, great atmosphere, great music.
The first time I saw Tinariwen was a different affair. They emerged from hiding in the Libyan desert to come as a storm in the world music scene. In the 80s member of the band were trained by Gaddafi to guerrilla and spent years fighting Tuareg revolt against Malian government. In the 90s they left the weapons to embrace guitars. A nice tale that got an emotional response from France, first, to the world followed.
It was Barbican 2004 and blues legend Taj Mahal joined them on stage. A once in a lifetime concert if you are into world music.
At that times the music press used to call Malian music desert blues. Tinariwen released Amassakoul, their second album and first to have international recognition. Ali Farka Touré was still alive and about to kick Savane. Two albums that would change the history of African music, or, better, change the perception of the Western world about (West) African music.
Martin Scorsese blues series was out about that time as well. He filmed Feel Like Going Home a story documenting the journey of a Bluesman back to Africa in search of his roots. Good movie, but that concept never convinced me. It looks a marketing strategy to sell African music sticking the once appealing label “Blues” on it.
Tinariwen fell into that shelf for a long while. Backed by American musicians the tam-tam spread among world music circuit and soon they were labelled as the pioneers of Electric African blues. Desert blues. Electric whatever Blues.
Their music in reality wasn’t and still is not much more than African music played with Fender Stratocaster and electric guitars in addition to traditional percussions.
It is beautiful, reinvigorating and pushing the world music cliches away.
There was no need to dope that.
Tonight, 8 years later, Tinariwen are still up and running. They are touring Tassili, they’re latest album, fifth in total and Grammy Winner. All albums have be praised by the specialised press, all increased a solid following both sides of the ocean but the Grammy is the icing on the cake. Is the final proof to be part of the industry. As Bon Iver and the Black Keys are now experiencing too.
Advantage that the label blues seems to have gone. People don’t mind if they really play the blues and blues isn’t selling anymore.
If even Jack White (arguably the latest of bluesmen) record a solo album without hints of blue notes the trend is a fact.
Blues will come back, so far there is not much point to attach it to a Malian record.
Mali is having some problems again. Tuareg, the people to which the band belongs too, just declared independence on the north of the country following a military revolt happened ad the end of March. It is not clear what is going to happen next.
One thing is clear tonight though. When the band came onto the Shepherd’s Bush Empire stage, I noticed the absence of Ibrahim. The founder of the band and the undisputed leader tonight is missing.
I was pondering if he went back fighting, left the band or what. The girl at the merchandise stall told me he simply couldn’t be at that date.
The Observer writes he was back to Mali to help his people. Nice confirmation that Tinariwen music and belief are not something negotiable.
I would have appreciated to know the reason. Why English audience has always to keep music and politics separated even when there is such a strong link is a big question to answer. Unless there is Billy Bragg on stage.
The concert as it happens with Tinariwen has its great moments and some redundant passages. African rhythms can make the entire venue dance to their beat, some of the guitar solos are unnecessary or just too self-referential, the hand clapping is effective to warm up the air of another rainy and miserable spring night in London.
What makes Tinariwen special is what made them pioneers. They electrified African music, they moved it from self-assembled instruments to loud amplifiers plugged into Fender axes. Link to that a desire to voice the voiceless, arm the armless to mention Tom Morello and the mixture is explosive.
Enough to be looking forward to another Tinariwen show, waiting for Ibrahim to be back and Mali to live a peaceful future. Even because that is one of the places where I want to go for one of my photographic journeys.
There are missed occasions for photographers at any gig, but this one was a sort of collection of missed occasions.
Not only pictures fail to happen when we are still within the allocated time slot.
it’s plenty of missed occasion beyond photographers’ control. And these are the ones that hurt most.
Ibrahim absence is one of them. He is surely the most photogenic member of the band, his intense glance is an easy winner. The revolutionary revolutioning with music. Ibrahim was in Mali not much to complain in reality. Praise to him to stand for the rights he always fought for.
Jose Gonzalez was the special guest opening for this special show. At a certain moment in the show the Swedish songwriter joined Tinariwen on stage to sing the TV on the Radio vocal part of Tenere Taqqim Tossam. There is not photographic evidence of this passage apart from once another bad quality youtube video. It was beyond the third song so photographers were moved out of the pit.
How many great concert moments are being lost because of the first three songs rule? I know I write this every other post but will never stop saying until someone has ears to listen to me and explain to me why.
There is more. This show was special because Tinariwen were going to be doubly awarded on stage. They picked the Songlines music award, from the magazine specialised in world music, and, most important the Grammy who marked their brilliant career and was airlifted straight from LA for the occasion.
This happened at the end of the show, when photographers were not allowed in the pit and most of them already on their computer downloading and post-editing the first three songs shots.
Missed occasions. Sadly.
There will be more, I will report them. Sadly.