At a time when the airwaves are populated by tune upon tune of commercially-motivated music whose objectives are not always the most noble of causes, it was a relief to go out and see a band with a story unlike any other, a group of musicians who perform with the specific purpose of triggering social change.
Tinariwen are a Tuareg-Berber band from the barren desert lands south of the Sahara. Forced into military service and detached from their traditionally nomadic lifestyle, the band formed in the rebel camps of the late Colonel Gadaffi. The group traded their traditional instruments for rock guitars and drums and single-handedly formed Tishoumaren (music for the unemployed), a rebellious form of music that voiced the concerns of the working class and the oppressed, calling for solidarity and unity in the face of the political and social problems of the Sahel/Sahara region. Some of their politically charged music has since been banned by the governments of Algeria and Mali on account of its seditionary character, though this hasn't stopped them from performing to an international audience.
Clad in traditional Tuareg attire and armed with three electric guitars, a bongo drum and the enchanting voice of their lead singer, Tinariwen took to the stage at a packed Lille Vega and immediately wooed the crowd with a spellbinding entree that vibrated with the passionate overtones of rebellion. Two songs in, and the band shifted to a more upbeat tone, altering their setup to accommodate a mix of acoustic as well as electric guitars, exhibiting a more dance-friendly side to their music, one that teemed with hair-raising ululations whilst at the same time maintaining the spellbinding feel of their unique blend of music.
Performing songs off both their latest album Tassili, a masterpiece that won accolades for the best world music album of 2011, as well as other past albums, Tinawiren performed emphatically for the better part of their show. While the music was at times a tad monotonous, the band became more accessible towards the end of their show as they used the full breadth of the stage and interacted more freely with the crowd. Unlike many other shows at Vega, Tinawiren's performance was a show that managed to attract a blend of the old and the young, complimenting the accessibility of their rebellion-ridden music.