North African desert nomads Tinariwen, the most famous unknown band in America, recently performed to a sold out show at UCLA's Royce Hall. Discovered by Led Zeppelin rock legend Robert Plant in the Festival Au Desert in Timbuktu (yes that city really does exist!), Tinariwen's trajectory over the last 5 years has been onward and upward ever since.
Mixing Saharan desert grooves and psychedelic blues it was somewhat inevitable that Tinariwen would receive a friendly welcome in a city that gave the world The Doors - an L.A. band of which comparisons are not unwarranted. But whereas Jim Morrison sung about strung-out LSD experiences, Tinariwen sing in both French and their indigenous dialect about rebellion, survival, Colonel Gaddafi and the proud history of its oppressed Touareg desert people and their fight for independence.
Tinariwen's February 20th Royce Hall show became something of a celebration, as their infectious grooves transformed a somewhat appreciative but conservative crowd into a joyous, heaving mass who paid little attention to concert security as audience members left their seats and swarmed to the front of the stage. Pre-dominantly favoring their current album "Imidiwan: Companions", Tinariwen in turn indulged the audience by turning the feel-good factor up to a wonderfully meditative ten out of ten. Running late and still playing way after curfew time, Tinariwen and the crowd didn't care as everyone swayed and danced in unison in this Californian love-in.
Had the 1960s returned with full force in Los Angeles on Saturday night? Not quite, but an almighty spirit united two continents, that somehow made you feel that 'we the people' aren't that different after all.
You can see the band perform at the Hollywood Bowl this summer June 20th. They will be part of the impressive KCRW Music Festival line-up including Baaba Maal and The Chemical Brothers. Or check their site for more tour dates: http://www.tinariwen.com/events