Search The Line of Best Fit
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Tinariwen – Village Underground, London 06/03/14

11 March 2014, 12:00 | Written by Chris Pratt

A converted Victorian warehouse slap-bang in the middle of gentrified Shoreditch wouldn’t normally strike me as a first choice venue for the electrified blues jams of North African nomads Tinariwen.

At Glastonbury a few years ago, I saw the same Tuareg heroes captivate big crowds across two afternoon sets, where their repetitive riffs and rolling grooves perfectly complemented both the late June heat and the precarious practice of heavy drinking on a hangover. My fuzzy yet cherished recollections of those performances meant that I’ve shied away from their London shows since, nervous of tarnishing my idyllic memories.

Clearly I needn’t have worried. From the moment the band step out onto Village Underground’s stage, swimming in the luxurious blues, golds and whites of their signature robes and headscarves, I’m transported from a chilly London club back to a sun-dappled Somerset field with a two litre plastic bottle of rum and ginger beer in my hand. And as the guitar lines unfurl and Tinariwen begin to hit their stride I’m teleported once again to the brooding, mountainous dunes of a Moroccan Sahara nightscape, sitting on huge rugs with our Tuareg guides, listening to 2009’s Imidiwan on a mate’s tinny iPod dock, making new friends through this music whilst camels bray in the gloom.

Tinariwen means ‘deserts’ in Tuareg. Sparse and endless, but somehow bewitching at the same time – Tinariwen are deserts. Once you’ve heard them it’s impossible to look at or even think about the vast, empty landscapes without hearing those eerily familiar melodic dirges. Indeed, under their enchantment, Village Underground’s high ceiling becomes a big African sky and long shadows of the band cover the red walls as if fashioned by campfire light on the sides of a huge tent – right now London is the desert and we’re thankful to be the ones partying in this oasis.

Tinariwen’s already epic biography took a further twist recently when the troubles in northern Mali forced them to leave their homes, relocating in California where they recorded their latest full-length, Emmaar. They weren’t looking for a big break in LA though – they simply traded one desert for another, Joshua Tree, a mystical place with a rich musical heritage. Tonight they proved their synonymy with these places and, amazingly, their ability to recreate them wherever they play.

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