Venue: Phoenix Concert Theatre, Sherbourne Street, Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: 4 March 2010
In one word: Radiant
Tonight in Toronto “one of the most superb bands” in world music performed to a packed-out Phoenix Concert Theatre. That’s a paraphrase of the introduction given by Small World Music’s Executive Director Alan Davis as Tinariwen took to the stage, and for the near two hours that they played this band of Touareg musicians from Mali more than lived up to this glowing praise.
Tinariwen were radiant, delivering a performance as bright as their attire. The smiling faces on stage were reflected throughout the audience as Tinariwen opened with “Mano Dayak”, a song about a Touareg freedom fighter, and one of the many politically and socially motivated songs that the band played tonight. While the message of their music is sung in their mother tongue, the power and soul of Tinariwen’s songs translates universally through the hypnotic beats and grooves of the African Blues that this band have pioneered.
Hassan Ag Toughami the co-lead vocalist and guitarist, was charismatic and charming, with his repeated quips of “Ça va?” and “How’s it going? OK?” between songs. Ag Toughami was an entertaining and lively performer, often dancing at the edge of the stage when not singing or playing guitar, but there is no doubt about who the real leader of this band is. Ibrahim Ag Alhabib was conspicuous by his absence in the beginning, but when he walked on to take centre stage for the fourth song “Assouf Ag Assouf” his presence was immediately felt. Alhabib, standing tall with his afro, cut a striking figure of solemn calmness and coolness, and emitted an aura that seemed to inspire his band mates to slowly kick it up a notch.
As Ag Alhabib played on a black Gibson SG and sung, Tinariwen got more and more into a groove. The sound of the Sahara sounded better tonight than anything you’ve ever heard on record – truly a band that you have to see live to really live the music. The audience toe-tapped, swayed, and danced within their comfort zones as Tinariwen got more and more lively, with the bassist Eyadou Ag Leche having fun by doing an occasional hop and a skip, while a couple times the talented djembe player Said Ag Ayad would rise to his feet to rouse the crowd. The other two members of this sextet were a shy rhythm guitarist who hung back in the shadows, and a lady on backing vocals who frequently let loose with a trill “aye-aye-aye” that was echoed by a few budding mockingbirds in the crowd.
One of the best songs of the night was “Inidiwan Afrik Tendam”, the opening track from the band’s 2009 album Imidiwan: Companions, which sounded fantastic live. Shortly after this song, Tinariwen exited the stage before Ag Toughami came on by himself to begin the encore, with the complete band closing the night with “Wartila”.
© Brian Banks, Music Vice
Assouf Ag Assouf
Inidiwan Afrik Temdam
Tinariwen – Official Website
Small World Music – Toronto non-profit organization who presented this concert
Interview – Henry Rollins mentioned Tinariwen and discussed African music in a recent Music Vice interview