Taureg energy metered over the Capri stage last Thursday night in Marfa as the motor coach traveling Bedoiun band “Tinariwen” pumped the sound of a different desert into the West Texas air. Surreal, at times you expected the six man band to drop their electric guitars, pull off their kufeyas and reveal L.A. smiles, but the music, strange and bent was too far out to be a charade.
They call it “Desert Blues” but you didn’t hear a turn-around, no 12 bars to rely on for your dance rhythm – this was different, like 11 beats to a measure if anybody was counting. At times there was a riff you might nail, Almond Bros? Stevie Ray Vaughn? – But like a North African sirocco it was gone with the wind into the strange.
A consciousness mulled in their beat – distinct from much American hip-swaying, sex-drive pump. Tinariwen’s was blue nights, blue stars, but not the blues we know – happy, sad and hypnotic at times. Hands at their side, they received their praise with apparent aplomb but their eyes told us “it is good.” Steel balls on ceramic occasionally feathered the beat in a wavy motif and the bass player charmed some songs with a one-two that captured a sitar like buzz, perhaps a root that checked their music in the dry white Sahara.
In Mali, the founder of the band, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib witnessed his Taureg rebel father’s execution in 1963 after a failed coup d’tat. The family fled to the vast expanse of the open desert sojourning in the shadow of sand dunes, along ancient camel-hoofed trade routes south of the Atlas Mountains. Refugee camps sprung up in southern Libya as Taureg clans and others from neighboring countries took advantage of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s apparent generosity. The band members met in these camps in 1979 and soon became known as “Kel Tinariwen” a Tamashek phrase meaning “Desert Boys”. Playing Tuareg and Arab pop at the refugee camps, they began to explore “chaabi” protest music of Morocco, Algerian pop-rai and later Presley, Santana, Led Zepplin, Boney M, Marley and Hendrix. They gained international recognition in 2000, won Germany’s prestigious Praetorius Music Award in 2008 and have toured and released a number of CD’s including their latest “Tassili”.
Outside the gabion-walled Capri courtyard a slick motor coach await these Bedouin musicians. The tuaregs tour on. Other great music towns beacon: New Orleans, Atlanta, London.