12th November | Trinity
Photos: Lee Ramsey
With a beautifully regal outside facade, and a vast but surprisingly intimate interior, East Bristol’s Trinity Community Arts Centre was the perfect location for the long-awaited return of Tinariwen to our city. Their name translates literally as ‘deserts’, and this permeated the group of Northern African musicians’ mixture of sand-infused jazz, traditional African styles, blues and rock. Playing with a savant mastery of rhythm and groove that is the hallmark of their style. A receptive crowd enjoyed a long set of incredible music played with virtuoso confidence.
Support was provided by The Grey Area, the host of a monthly show on independent Bristol institution, Noods Radio. DJing a relaxed mix of world music and jazz with some large funk-leanings, he created a perfect introduction to Tinariwen’s style. The set was low-energy and more about creating vibes than moving the crowd with beats. However, the track choice set the scene well for what was to come, like a polite sommelier welcoming you to a table and explaining the food and wine you’d experience that evening.
Later, Tinariwen opened with a sparse number. A rolling, plucked guitar played over undulating and husky vocals before traditional percussion and a centred bassline joined, and vocal harmonies and textures began to stack on each other. Throughout the set, the compositions constantly felt like they were slowly morphing into the next passage, as opposed to jumping through the motions. This created a feeling like staring into a sandy kaleidoscopic picture of the Sahara, transportive and tantalising in its ever-shifting nature.
Their flowing compositions also made their music sound improvised and ephemeral, but the sheer genius and strength of their playing made it clear they weren’t. The music never sat still, like an extended jam through a collection of styles and beautiful moments Tinariwen had hand-picked from the history of music. This resulted in a performance where the second you let yourself go, you became quickly lost in the sea of meandering euphoria, time slipping by at a dizzying rate whilst the Northern Mali-based group took you somewhere unique and astounding.
Another strong point in Tinariwen’s arsenal was the mixture of sounds used. The constantly surprising palette was rich and layered, a diverse mix of Western sounds driven by more traditional African instrumentation that fed each other instead of jarring. The guitar, in particular, borrowed from the oeuvre of Western rock, but the group manipulated it and took it to new and exciting places. This was aided on the night by a perfect sound mix. Despite the large range of timbre, every disparate element sounded distinct, recognisable, and placed perfectly in the mix throughout the lengthy set.
Another high-point of the performance was Tinariwen themselves. Their stage personas harkened to Frank in the titular 2014 Lenny Abrahamson film, a group of auteurs wholly given to what they create. Throughout the performance, the artist at the centre of the stage revolved. Instead of watching a singular band, it felt like watching a group of multi-talented artists forming a collective; Tinariwen are a supergroup minus any negative connotations or ego.
See the video for ‘Kel Tinawen’ (feat. Cass McCombs) here: