SXSW Live Shot: Tinariwen

Desert blues and the Tuareg two-step

Introduced as the godfathers of desert blues and the group that brought Tuareg music to the international stage, Tinariwen melted minds with 45 minutes of swirling guitar grooves and percussion Friday night.

Photo by Sandy Carson

The hypnotic desert drone is perfect for wandering around your own head space like the Tuareg people have traversed the sands of the Sahara for centuries. Their songs unfurl at a decidedly unhurried pace, as if time itself has a different meaning for nomads. If there’s no destination, who cares how long it takes to get there?

Political turmoil has left Tinariwen in exile and their sixth and latest album, Emmaar, was recorded at Joshua Tree in California’s Mojave Desert. The bulk of the set-list pulled from that recent effort and 2011’s Tassili, but my Tamashek language skills could use some brushing up, so it was hard for these ears to tell. The band essentially does one thing, but that one thing’s absolutely mesmerizing.

Playing as a fivepiece, the group from northern Mali was dressed for a desert trek, donning traditional robes and taguelmoust head scarves. There wasn’t much dancing onstage, but when the groove was thick, one of the vocalists would lift the tail of his long scarf above his head and shuffle from side to side with a subtle grin.

From Mali to Texas, call it the Tuareg two-step.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Angel Olsen Entrances Mohawk
Angel Olsen Entrances Mohawk
Her other shoe drops tonight at the Red River favorite

Abby Johnston, Feb. 7, 2017

Out of the Gutter
Out of the Gutter
The Bulemics grow up

Tim Stegall, April 1, 2016

More by Thomas Fawcett
The Gospel According to Lee Fields
The Gospel According to Lee Fields
Soul man tells it all ahead of Saturday’s ice cream social

June 22, 2018

Texas Platters
Fear of a Brown Planet (Record Review)

June 22, 2018


Tinariwen, SXSW Music 2014

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle