Tinariwen | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The musicians in the Malian ensemble Tinariwen are members of the Tuareg, an ancient group of nomads that has crisscrossed the Sahara for centuries. In the early 90s the Tuareg staged armed rebellions against the governments of Mali and Niger, which galvanized the people's music; both Tinariwen and Ensemble Tartit, the best-known Tuareg musical acts, formed in refugee camps during the unrest. While Tartit employs the most rustic of tools--call-and-response vocals, syncopated hand claps, elementary rhythms played on a hand drum called a tinde, and simple licks bowed on a single-string violin--Tinariwen has embraced electric guitars from the West. But at their cores both groups play the same kind of music: single-chord chants that drone sensually over hypnotic grooves. On Tinariwen's second album, Amassakoul (World Village), the songs are anchored by looping bass lines and propulsive hand percussion, but the excitement comes from the terse, bluesy phrases banged out by the band's three guitarists; their subtly bent notes and parched inflections give the rhythmic music some melodic grace. Like the songs of Mali's great Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen's music could pose as the African source of John Lee Hooker's blues, but Tinariwen achieves its power collectively. Individually each phrase would sound like an incomplete sentence, but together they provide a profound running commentary in songs that meditate on the hardships of desert life and urge conviction in the face of oppression. This is Tinariwen's Chicago debut; the show will be preceded by a screening of Festival in the Desert, a documentary about a 2003 Tuareg music festival in Saharan Mali (see movie listings). Tuesday 11/9, 8:30 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Free. All ages.

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