Tinariwen – Barbican, London (Live Review)

Although Tinariwen have played the UK lots of times, it has usually been part of a mixed bill and so here was a rare chance to see a long set from the Tamashek sensations. With pretty much the entire UK press behind them (and not just the ‘world music’ crowd), there was a pretty heavy level of anticipation…

The night started though with a short set by Robert Plant’s guitarist Justin Adams in a trio thrown together for the occasion. The group featured the Gambian one-string fiddle player Juldeh Camara and a gnarled percussionist who could have come straight from playing with Gong, complete with wizard outfit.

These guys can hit a groove at a hundred yards stone cold but when their more interesting melodic aspects come into play at the same time, the result is truly wonderful to behold

If Tinariwen have fought hard to upset the apple stall of pre-conceptions raised by the idea of a ‘world music’ band, I think it would be fair to say that Justin Adams did his level best to put all the apples back in place and even polish them a little too. Juldeh is a rare and wonderful talent on fiddle and banjo, the wizard dude holds his own and Justin is both a talented guitarist and an integral part of the fairy tale that brings a band of desert musicians to wider attention. All the same, white guy playing slide guitar, hippy wizard clanking things and African musician bowing a one-stringed fiddle in the precious surrounds of the Barbican was perhaps at odds with Tinariwen’s new image.
The main band doled out their musical goodies slowly. Anyone expecting them to come on like the Rolling Stones, would have been surprised to see them build slowly and carefully the atmosphere and energy levels of the songs. Lead singer Ibrahim started the show solo with his sad voice and guitar less a permanent fixture than a recurrent theme that would be used and switched off throughout the night with Ibrahim on stage only about half the time.
By about half way through the set, things were really starting to warm up though and there were a few surprises thrown in: I nearly had to rub my ears but I could swear they were rapping in French and Tamashek for one song. Tinariwen have a big back catalogue of songs to choose from but for some reason, they kept the first half on a very similar tone, which was a shame. These guys can hit a groove at a hundred yards stone cold but when their more interesting melodic aspects come into play at the same time, the result is truly wonderful to behold.
For an encore, they played not one but three songs and I would gladly have swapped the rest of the show for the energy and passion of those three songs.
Tinariwen return to London on December 12th at the Shepherds Bush Empire and I would expect that show to be punchier and harder in the grungier surrounds of West London’s famous stand up venue.
UK Tour Dates:

  • 26th March: Dundee, Bonar Hall (01382 434940)
  • 27th March: Inverness, Ironworks (01463 234234)
  • 28th March: Langholm, Buccleugh Centre (01387 381196)
  • 29th March: Glasgow, Arches (0870 240 7528)
  • 30th March: Edinburgh, Queens Hall (0131 668 2019)
  • 31st March: Aberdeen, Lemon Tree (01224 642230)


  • 1st May: Brighton, Komedia (01273 647100)
  • 2nd May: Gateshead, Sage 1 (0191 443 4661)
  • 3rd May: Bristol, Fiddlers (0117 9299008)
  • 4th May: Leicester, De Montfort Hall (0116 233 3111)
  • 5th May: Liverpool, Philharmonic Hall (0151 709 3789)
  • 6th May: Coventry, Warwick Arts Centre

–Photo by Damian Rafferty–
See photos of last night’s performance by Tinariwen
Read a review of Aman Iman: Water is Life or our lead feature on Tinariwen

2 thoughts on “Tinariwen – Barbican, London (Live Review)

  1. Damien – you have eloquently said what the bunch of us who were there last night were trying to articulate to each other (in an admittedly drunken and stoned state). We too felt that Justin Adams was something of an irrelevance – and when he announced he was about to sing a country song, we all went right off him.
    Tinariwen appeared to take some time to warm up – they appeared nervous and unsure of the reception they would get (which is odd because they must have done hundreds of gigs in Eurpoe). The 2nd half of the set was just magic. It seemed that all was required was some movement from the band and the audience would reciprocate. I think any band has to realise that if they just stand there playing their tunes, then the audience will get bored pretty quickly. Tinariwen only just managed to save themselves from that fate last night, but they did so in fine style. All round, a bit of a curate’s egg of an evening, but the good parts were just ace and more than made up for the stuttering early bits.
    If this tour is coming to a town near you, then go. You won’t regret it. But maybe sit out the support in the bar.


  2. This week on The Beat, Jon Stewart talks to Tinariwen, one of the most hotly tipped bands of the year. The Touareg band members live a traditional nomadic existence in the Malian desert and are hoping to raise awareness of the plight of the Touareg people through their music. Will they be one of the first world music bands of 2007 to break into the mainstream?


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