At the sold out Tinariwen show at Brooklyn Bowl on Monday, March 24th, I was sandwiched in between a typical college bro on my right and a worldly intellectual female on my left. A very well known actress was a mere three feet in front of me and a Wall Street finance type was not too far behind. That is the beauty of the music that the Northern African music collective creates and performs; it simply knows no boundaries.

Hailing from the Tuareg region in Northern Mali, Tinariwen, which translates to “The Desert Boys”, is a world class musical group with a powerful backstory. Current collective members Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni first met as rebel fighters in the mid 1980s, exiled from Tuareg due to civil war. Along with other members, the two played guitar and sang about the issues facing their people. After fighting with the rebel movement, Tinariwen continued to play their music throughout the Sahara region, gaining popularity with every new performance. Tinariwen’s music finally broke stateside through collaboration with TV On The Radio on their 2011 Grammy winning album, Tassili.

The six touring members of Tinariwen, including front men Alhabib and Alhousseyni, made quite an entrance onto the stage in traditional robes and turbans and immediately started to play. Cheers of happiness and excitement began at that point and continued throughout the show, most notably from Mali nationals in the crowd. The group’s musical style of modern rock and roll mixed with the traditional sounds of Tuareg matched well with the constantly changing bright lights and the audience’s enthusiasm. The music collective had previously cited musical influences such as traditional music from Algeria and Morocco as well as Santana, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix, all of which came through tremendously in each song they played. Tinariwen fed off of the atmosphere and responded as best as they could in broken English, “Thank you so much! Are you happy? It’s ok?!?” Needless to say, the audience then erupted into applause.

I will be honest that I was a little hesitant to review Tinariwen at first. Despite being familiar with their incredible backstory, I was nervous about the language barrier and the inability to understand what they were trying to get across. However, as I watched the audience’s reaction to the musical collective that night, I realized that reviewing the concert wasn’t the point in this case. Tinariwen proves once again the age-old fact that music transcends all language. The majority of that audience had no idea what exactly Alhabib or Alhousseyni was singing about, let alone the correct pronunciation of their song titles. However, every single person there was profoundly moved by Tinariwen’s performance. The music was wonderful, fun, and full of interesting and foreign rhythms, that is all we needed to know in order to understand.

– Marisa Frydman


Check out a video from the show (courtesy of Samir Langus):

Here is Tinariwen playing with TV on the Radio in their home region (check this out):