Latitude 2009

Tinariwen: from the desert to Suffolk

John Mulvey

Not many stars spotted here as yet, but I did just see a dragonfly in the bogs, which was moderately impressive. I was on my way to the Uncut tent, where Tinariwen played a tremendous set.

I think maybe half the people in the tent spent most of the show trying to find out who this band of berobed Tuaregs were. I kept being asked by neophytes who were totally enraptured by this elemental, spidery and quite beautiful rock'n'roll. I suppose if you were being over-literal, the concept of a bunch of nomads from the Sahara playing this unfeasibly verdant corner of Norfolk might seem a little surreal.

But the genius of Tinariwen's music is that it's fundamentally this pumping, immediate and immensely groovy form of rock'n'roll, music which transcends any suspicions that people may have about 'world' music, whatever that means.

This is the first time I've actually managed to catch them live, and predictably, they were even better than on record. One thing that really came to the fore was the bass. Tinariwen have been compared to The Grateful Dead plenty of times, not least by me - due chiefly, I guess, to the unravelling, exploratory guitar lines and the way that they wrap around each other. But it strikes me here that the melodic intricacy of the basslines - doing much more than just pinning down the rhythm - is redolent of Phil Lesh and the Dead.

But I am fumblingly pretending to be a muso. Off to see Wilco in a sec; maybe I can try out some more half-arsed Dead comparisons on them, too.


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