Few rock 'n' roll bands can claim they were born in a war zone. Tinariwen can. Members of the Tuareg, a nomadic South Saharan people, Tinariwen fled discrimination and social unrest in their native Mali only to land in the rebel camps of Colonel Gaddafi's Libya. Groups that that bitch about the hardships of touring have nothing on these Berber guitar slingers.
Despite their harrowing past, Tinariwen's music, defined by front man and founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib's husky incantations and a muscular weave of coiling electric guitars, is uplifting and awe-ispiring. On one hand, it's as hypnotic and alien as the scouring desert sands. On the other, their snaky blues is comfortably familiar, recalling the pyrotechnics of Jimi Hendrix and the psychedelic drone of the Velvet Underground.
Exiled from their homeland for decades, Tinariwen have become citizens of the world, as this recording of a magical evening at Paris' Bouffes du Nord attests. The set is a celebration, too inspired to be called a mere concert, and Tinariwen seemed fired up by the rowdy Parisian crowd, who clap along with the band's clattering percussion, and join in on the group's trancey chant singing.
But the main catalyst lifting Tinariwen to new heights is 75-year-old Saharan chanteuse Lalla Badi, who guests on three numbers. A toººwering figure in Taureg culture, Badi is matriarch and earth mother to Tinariwen. She aided the band members in their early days of exile, and Tinariwen's respect and reverence for her is palpable. On "Tinde Final", Badi joins the group's percussive wave on tinde', a traditional goatskin covered drum. Her energetic chanting propels the tune, turning it into a liturgical rave-up, a hard rocking experience that is supremely holy.