Tinariwen at the Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH 11/22/2011

Frequent Two Sisters show going comrade, Renee, was in attendance at the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights a few weeks back to witness the stage light up with passion and energy from the incredible northern Malian band, Tinariwen. It’s a show I was very disappointed to have missed (and that I would have attended had I not been out of town on another Two Sisters mission) but thankfully Renee has shared with us with some of her beautiful photographs and her impressions of the show.

Tinariwen, live at the Grog Shop
Photos and review by Renee

Tinariwen swept in to the Grog Shop promoting their fifth album, Tassili. On this leg of the tour Tinariwen had 6 musicians on stage: a percussionist with 2 hand drums, electric bass, 3 guitarists, and a backing vocalist who also provided hand claps and dancing (all musicians contribute to harmonies and call-and-response vocals). The definitive master of Tuareg guitar, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, did not take the stage until the third song and humbly left the stage when Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni played gorgeous classical guitar, fitted with a pick-up. The classical solos were restfully moving yet equally rhythmic as when the four electrified guitars were surging into the crowd.

Because Tinariwen’s members are nomadic Berbers from North and West Africa, the verbal communication with the audience was minimal. Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni did call out “Ça Va?” and “It’s OK?” a few times, but Tinariwen does not rely on dialogue to communicate with their audiences. I stood (not still) directly in front of a founding member of the band, Alhassane Ag Touhami, who was not playing guitar that night, but was a key for physically engaging the audience. He was in constant movement, clapping, arms open, reaching out to the audience and coaxing the audience to reach back to him, and his scarf could not hide the smile on his face. Most of the band members were fairly stoic, but that could be a misperception created by being unable to read their faces. Ibrahim Ag Alhabib was calm, if not solemn, but his presence does seem to dissolve some when he pours his spirit into the desert blues. I have read many quotes by him stating that no matter what stage he is on, his mind is always in the dessert and with the Tamasheq people. Towards the end of the show, he called a translator to the stage to tell the crowd, “These songs flow free from my heart, even though my tongue is sharp.”

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All photos by Renee for Sisters Dissonance

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