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.
Tinariwen sings in a dialect of Tamasheq native to parts of Mali and Burkina Faso. So while most listeners can’t understand the language (which, when you read the translations, actually tell stories about overcoming persecution, challenging war with peaceful ideals, and choosing unity in the face of a fractured environment), the immaculately produced studio LPs seem to ease that challenge and offer a seamless, easy listening experience for fans.
When Tinariwen plays gigs, however, they offer a raucous, rowdy live show that lends itself more to shimmying and grooving, rather then translating and contemplating. Live In Paris, even with its questionable sequencing and skip lags between songs, begins to explore that. While the first few tracks build slowly, “Imidiwan Ahi Sigidam” (a single from Emmaar) begins the up-tempo jamming. Tinariwen really gets going on “Tamatant Tiley,” though, with looser guitar lines and a seemingly improvised solo. Later, “Chaghaybou” veers as close to a driving 4/4 rhythm that the band has ever done before.
The most stunning element of Live In Paris, however, is that the French audience’s participation is not just audible, but impassioned. Cheering begins as soon as instrumental intros become recognizable and “woo’s” punctuate songs during peaks (especially during “Tinde Part 1” featuring septuagenarian tindé musician Lalla Badi who guested during the entire show) and post-solos. The band rarely offers more than an occasional “merci beaucoup” to its crowd. But what’s most remarkable is that those squeals of joyous excitement from French-speaking audience members are directed to a band whose words they don’t even understand.
So in the wake of the recent terror events in Paris, it seems wrong not to acknowledge the connection between Tinariwen playing The City of Light and the collaborative, communal spirit it elicited. In fact, Tinariwen performed at Le Bataclan (where 89 people died in a terror attack on Friday, November 13) back in 2007. Of course, Live In Paris could have in no way predicted those recent attacks, nor have been released at this time solely to capitalize on media attention. No, Live In Paris simply encapsulates an evening of profound music shared between people of differing cultures. And maybe, just maybe, listening to records like Live In Paris and recognizing the context in which these songs were written and this show was recorded, we can learn to be a little more inclusive and understanding of those around us.