They’ve been called the best rock band on the planet and the greatest purveyors of blues from Africa.  Both of these things could be true.  But Tinariwen is far from being either a rock band or a blues band.  Sure they’ve got loud distorted electric guitars, sometimes four of them on the stage at once, and a soulful hypnotic drive to their music that at times sound remarkably similar to native Mississippi bluesmen Junior Kimbrough and John Lee Hooker.  But the genre is actually Tishoumaren (though when they were getting started, the members of Tinariwen just called it guitar music).  Most people outside the Sahara call it Tuareg music.  The Tuareg people are semi-nomadic and move around the desert region in Mali and Algeria (where they need portable generators to power those guitars and amps).  For the past few decades, Tuareg wanderings have included rebellion against governments in Mali and Niger.  The members of Tinariwen came together as part of that rebel community taking refuge in Libyan camps in the 1970s.   Since then they’ve had plenty of success, international recognition, and critical acclaim, but that rebel spirit is still the heart of their music as they tour the world.

The band lays down an intense trance groove driven by the droning guitars and tindé drum.  Like the Tuareg people, the music travels between North and West Africa.  At times it brings to mind Malian neighbors like Ali Farka Toure or Boubacar Traore, other times there are clear strains of Arabic music.  The combination is uniquely Saharan desert.  The desert infuses everything the Tuareg do and Tinariwen tries to communicate life in the desert through their music.  Even if you don’t understand the lyrics sung in Tamashek, it’s hard to avoid feeling the emotion they convey.

There’s a large African population in D.C., and African music shows are often great parties with a lot of dancing, audience members on stage, and money flying though the air.  Though the 9:30 club seems to be going for a more rock-oriented crowd with opener Miles Seaton of Akron/Family.  Regardless of who’s in the crowd, Tinariwen will surely rock in pure Tuareg fashion.

Culture Tinariwen at the 9:30 Club Friday, June 25