My third-grade geography class contained a section on studying deserts.
I was fascinated by what I then thought was a lifeless Sahara, a massive stretch of land with nomadic inhabitants that was unknown to me. Somehow left out of my studies was the culture of these people, and their interest in art, history and music.
For Tinariwen, a band made up of Tuareg musicians from the Sahara, their musical pursuits include the indigenous sounds of their home, along with blues, rock and pop music from the rest of the world, including the U.S.
Tinariwen will perform Saturday at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
Formed in 1979 by leader Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the band’s members grew up in a more-than-unstable political climate in an area ravaged by drought, war and unrest, circumstances that likely drove them to make music.
Forget the plight of the American musician, woodshedding in a garage, touring the U.S. in a broken van for little pay and sleeping on floors. Tinariwen’s songs depict a difficult life as they learned to play on hand-made instruments while living in refugee camps or in exile from their desert home. These guys were lucky if there was an electrical outlet to plug in a sand-filled amplifier.
Tinariwen achieved international recognition in the late 1990s after playing a series of shows in France. They were well-received, resulting in more European performances and their debut recording, which brought their music to audiences outside North Africa and Europe. They’ve since toured and recorded worldwide, touted by musicians including Nels Cline and TV on the Radio.
Their sound is appealing to a broad spectrum of tastes, simple in its delivery yet large in a world-music-meets-rock-and-roll sense. Ambient, psychedelic guitar drenched in reverb accompanies lyrics sung in their native language of Tamasheq, joined by hand claps and percussion.
It’s inspired by traditional music from all over Africa, mated with the American rock that they heard in refugee camps, a marriage of centuries-old music and the not-so-traditional sounds of Santana and Jimi Hendrix.
The Grammy-winners are represented by Anti Records, as “independent” as a label can be, save for having no label representation at all, a label they share with artists as diverse as Neko Case, Tom Waits and Mavis Staples.
“They have that indie-rock vibe about them” said Community Concert Hall director Charles Leslie. “That’s what’s so interesting about the music. They are indie rockers, if you listen to them, it’s got that psychedelic sound, but it’s got a true, West African and African thing going on, too.”
Tinariwen will kick off the Community Concert Hall’s 2015-2016 season, which features shows including Dustbowl Revival, The Lone Bellow and A.J. Croce.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.