thumb the low bass strings and simultaneously pick and twang the higher notes, masterfully demonstrating the link between the Mississippi Delta and the Saharan sands.
Thanks to the pioneering work of recently deceased master Ali Farka Touré and guitarist Boubacar Traoré, the haunting sounds of the West African nation of Mali have made their way to Europe and the West. Sometimes dubbed Desert Blues, Malian music as practiced by Touré clearly demonstrated the link between the Mississippi Delta and the Saharan sands. Tinariwen, a band of Tuareg (a nomadic people of the southern Sahara) trade in similar riffs and melodies. Tinariwen's tunes started as rebel music, the songs and stories of the exiled, the disenfranchised, the war-stricken nomads of postcolonial Mali. The band's music was the voice of the resistance, a raised fist of radicalism shot through with spooky electric guitar, reverby fuzz, and mournful vocals. Certainly, most Westerners can't understand Tinariwen's lyrics, but the group's rhythms and beats are instantly translatable. Tinariwen captures sounds, bluesy and psychedelic, with slinky electric guitars, group-chant harmonies, and infectiously danceable beats. Consciously or not, Tinariwen has culled bits and pieces of the Delta Blues, rock-steady reggae, Malian folk music, the trance-inducing sounds of Sufi mysticism, and psychedelic soul to create a sound rivaled by few in the field of world music. Since the band's breakthrough performance at the inaugural Festival in the Desert in 2001, Tinariwen's star has been on the rise in the West. So, it should have been little surprise that the group packed the house at Martyr's, a Chicago rock club on the city's north side. More surprising was that the demographic of the audience -- predominantly white and relatively young, mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings. Few Africans were in attendance, let alone anyone likely able to speak or understand the Tameshek language in which Tinariwen sing.