Tinariwen & Dengue Fever @ the Chan Centre, 04/05/17
Desert Music is far from dry. The elegant Chan Centre hosted a more than memorable international double bill last Wednesday (April 5). Featuring the shifting, North African desert-born Tinariwen and the Los Angeles/Cambodian collaboration Dengue Fever, the fine acoustics of the UBC concert hall were the scene of an evening of sublime, dream-invoking music.
Dengue Fever, a Los Angeles six piece was fronted by the adorably charismatic Chhom Nimol, who injected an incomparable Cambodian flair to the group’s jazzy, psychedelic pop styles. With glimmering keys, steady bass and a versatile multi instrumentalist, Dengue Fever performed a variety of styles, sometimes within the same song; Nimol’s playful, lounge-y vocals drop from a dreamy lead vocals to an enchanting harmony with band co-founder Zac Holtzman on “Sober Driver,” a paradoxically edgy song that shifts from a jazzy verse to a bold, bright chorus. Blending South-East Asian folk and pop styles within Western rock structures, the sunny optimism of Dengue Fever was instantly embraced by the Vancouverites in attendance. By the middle of Dengue Fever’s set, the edges of the ornate auditorium were filled with happy, enthusiastic dancers.
Tinariwen is a group of seven Sahara inspired musicians who play a traditional form of Tuareg music. Vivid, bright, energized yet thoughtful, Tuareg music is both a precursor to American blues as well as a natural evolution of electric guitar. Tinariwen’s dual percussionists maintained faithful, hypnotizing beats that matched with the bold, rounded bass. Symbolic of the group’s stoic endurance and commitment to justice and rebellion, bassist Eyadou Ag Leche’s performed with a right hand bodied, left hand strung bass guitar bearing the flag of the aspiring Tuareg nation of Azawad. With all of members clad in indigo blue attire and traditional Tuareg head-wrappings, Tinariwen were a sight to behold. Overall, the soothing, dipping rhythms and soaring, jangling guitar melodies transported the audience to a dreamy, desert world.
Tinariwen’s newest album, Elwan, continues the faithful, bouncing beats and searing vitality present on 2014’s Emmaar. Although there was little variation in overall musical arrangements on songs such as “Ittus” and “Tiwayyen”, the vivid, droning, sonic textures never fell at risk of being stale. The persistent rhythms of the powerful but gentle dual percussionists are a central hallmark of the group. For a band that once had their musical studio raided by religious militants, Tinariwen’s recent success is more than deserved. Performing with meditative focus and a powerful radiating, charismatic warmth in the company of a passionate audience, the all-analogue music of Tinariwen was exquisitely clear. Few groups achieve the space, elegance and purpose embodied by Tinariwen. Rather than detract from the experience of a Western audience, the language made the music’s incomprehensible beauty all the more special. With the occasional switch of vocalists, the group exemplifies more of a communal spirit that starkly contrasts the normal Western musical themes.
Though the beautiful architecture and sublime sound of the Chan Centre delivered a memorable setting for an evening of mostly non-English singing, the evening’s largest drawback was the relative inaccessibility of dance space amongst the venue’s wooden seating. With the crowd varying greatly in age, from mature music fans, to more youthful hipsters or even children, there was plenty of participation through claps, dancing and enthusiastic applause from the audience, who were focusing their attention on the sonic aspect rather than lyrical content. The nature of the distant languages from each band invigorated the imagination, making the experience more interpretive than a typical concert. Sometimes not understanding the lyrics only made the intake of such invigorating, chiming, elegant sound all the more enjoyable. After all, isn’t music all about feeling?