27th November 2019

Live Review: Tinariwen at Manchester Cathedral

Having racked up well over 1000 live concerts in their careers, Tinariwen deliver yet another stunning performance at Manchester Cathedral
Live Review: Tinariwen at Manchester Cathedral
Photo: Flickr @zeibalsero

I was confused when I first saw this concert was at Manchester Cathedral. I knew there had been events there before, but logistically, so many questions remained: would the pews be cleared away to allow the holy spirit to imbue our limbs with dance? Would there be drinking permitted to allow for some ecclesiastical debauchery? Would there be additional lighting to add to the magnificence of the already breath-taking architecture?

The answer to all three was a resounding yes. There wasn’t a seat in sight (painful and wooden or otherwise), drinking was not only permitted but encouraged (IPAs alongside the more traditional glasses of blood o’ Christ), and there was a full technicolour light show that wouldn’t look out of place in the more hostile stages of Boomtown.

Surprised, excited, and slightly concerned that I might burst into flames at any moment, I reflected on what the night had in store. The support group Stranded Horse were on first and if I’m going to be perfectly honest, all I previously knew about them was their name, and that they would be on before the main act. Sorry.

The event everyone had come to see was, in fact, the bad boy rebels from the Saharan Desert, Tinariwen. The group hails from the Tuareg region of Northern Mali and Algeria; a family of revolutionaries, exposed to the deaths of their loved ones and forced from their homes, this band of brothers brings every ounce of their experience to their playing. Their touring line up is never quite the same, and they have performed some 1200 concerts worldwide, but their individual sound stays true.

I was intrigued to see what melange of people this unique tone of desert blues would attract, and just as I predicted, it was the hippies and the over 60’s. This joyous collection either didn’t believe in phones, or didn’t know how to use them, and the effect was a highly engaged crowd, not distracted by screens or notifications.

There was a rather hesitant round of applause for Stranded Horse’s equally hesitant lead singer, as he was joined on stage by his fellow bandmates. Their melodies and music were peaceful and serene; the kind you would want playing while receiving a back massage or trying to avoid your fourth emotional breakdown of the day.

Soon enough their time was up, and they were replaced by the turbaned main event. Tinariwen always look the part when they perform, and the colourful robes, if anything, added to the neo-Christian house of fun this cathedral had become.

Their set started with some low key ‘noodling’ on an acoustic, but as the traditional percussion and steeple-shattering bass kicked in, the slow shifting from foot to foot, turned into a more deliberate attempt at dancing. The dreadlocked vanguard at the very front of the crowd, of course, set the tempo for this jamboree.

Acoustic guitars were soon dropped for more heavy-duty electrics, and the simple rhythms on the drums at the back were ramped up to impossible-to-clap-along-to foot stompers.

The melodies became faster and more exciting and before long this journey through the eye of the sandstorm was complete. Clearly, these men were masters at work, with a professional performing career for the founding members spanning over 40 years.

To get a hallowed room of Mancunians on their feet for a couple of hours, to songs they couldn’t fathom trying to sing along to, is no mean feat. For years to come they will spread their message of resistance and rebellion, showing that instruments do not belong to genres, but to musicians; that adversity and pain can sculpt art and beauty.


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