Having famously swapped their AK-47s for Fender Stratocasters, Tuareg rock revolutionaries Tinariwen are arguably rock’n’roll’s first ever rebels with a cause. Formed in training camps for Colonel Gaddafi’s desert regiment in the mid-80s, Tinariwen began writing true protest songs about the plight of the Tuareg people. The force of their live performance was a phenomenon that saw their stock rapidly rise, leading to ecstatically received performances at festivals like WOMAD and Roskilde in the late 90s.
Tinariwen recorded its most recent release, Live In Paris at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord almost a year ago to the day. The 12-track LP follows last year’s studio album Emmaar and 2011’s Grammy award-winning Tassili, the latter of which featured such contemporary Western musicians as Nels Cline, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe. For the multi-generational Malian band, those studio albums recorded in controlled environments represent a state of calm for its band members who found each other even during decades of Saharan social unrest.
The title – roughly translated as “Losing the Blues”, asuf being “longing” – suggests a quiet fireside session in northern Mali, an impression re-enforced by a couple of slow-burn acoustic openers and the presence of Lalla Badi, the veteran matriarch of tinde, a ceremonial genre sung only by women. However, the masters of desert blues quickly heat up on this performance from late 2014, drawing on numbers from all eras of their repertoire. There are singalong chants such as Azawad, dusty midtempo drones (Imidiwan Ahi Sigidam) and exuberant pieces such as Chaghaybou dominated by the stinging guitar pyrotechnics of leader Ibrahim Ag Alhabib.