So I went to this free concert thing in Meeting House Square over the summer. It was free, but you had to get tickets for it. Someone else arranged this, such things are beneath me. When we arrived, Liam Ó Maonlaí was on stage with some tradders, largely being ignored. I think this is the curse of free concerts, people just show up and don't pay attention. Or maybe it is the curse of Liam Ó Maonlaí.
Next up were Afel Bocoum. Or next up was Afel Bocoum. I am not entirely clear on whether this is the name of a person or a band. I think a person. He is this fellow from Mali, and he plays with a load of other local musicians. The instrumentation and musical style comes across as very traditional, but I think the songs are often new, with Afel Bocoum singing about important concerns in his country – the problems of AIDS, deforestation of the Niger river banks (leading to desertification), and the country's semi-presidential constitution. Or so I have heard – he sings in foreign, so I cannot really tell.
Tinariwen are a Tuareg band from Mali. They presented an interesting contrast with Afel Bocoum, in that they seem much more to have achieved a synthesis between traditional and Western models of music. There is a very rock element to their sound, with their main guy playing lead electric guitar and plainly being a man of considerable talent with that instrument. Other rock instruments also feature in the line-up, but the band retain what look like more traditional instruments, as well as backing singers whose style seems distinctly non-western. The compositional style seemed a bit unusual too. I was really impressed by this lot, they seemed almost like a new direction in music, with the melange of elements taking things to a whole new level. Even Liam Ó Maonlaí joining them for an encore couldn't spoil things (in fairness to Mr Ó Maonlaí, I left this concert feeling almost well-disposed towards him, and it was interesting how comfortable the Malian musicians seemed to be with him).
One great thing about Tinariwen is their visual look- they play wearing Taureg robes, with the faces of most of the men obscured by the veils worn for protection against sun and sand. So you get a load of guys in long robes and covered faces playing guitars – deadly. There is maybe a gimmicky element to this, but it is a great gimmick.
I picked up albums by each of Tinariwen & Afel Bocoum, Amassakoul & Niger respectively. They are both excellent and very different from each other.