They toured their third album, Aman Iman, in the UK at the beginning of 2007, and they end an excellent year Tinariwen have been nominated a second time for a BBC World Music Award and hit the top 10 in numerous end-of-the-year lists with their first appearance at the Shepherds Bush Empire.
The venue's scale and sound suit the Tuareg guitar band well, emphasising the bottom end of their sound, deeply sprung and rolling hypnotically through song after song. It's a suitable arena, too, for Lo'Jo, the French band who helped bring Tinariwen and the African blues of the Tuareg to the outside world via their role in establishing the Festival of the Desert in the late Nineties.
I'd last seen them on another double date with Tinariwen in a fin-de-sicle theatre in Montmartre and, since then, they've tightened and bolted their music much closer to the hip bone. As a live band, driven by the crack rhythm team of bassist Kham and drummer Matthieu Rousseau, they are a revelation.
On stage, being in Lo'Jo seems to require you to do at least three things at once. While Kham switches between electric and acoustic bass, violinist Richard Bourreau doubles on a range of African percussion, while drummer Rousseau seems to have three continents built in into his kit. Lead singer and poet Denis Pan sways and sings over his Indian keyboard, the image of some richly smoked Gallic shaman, weaving his hands through the air as singers Nadia and Yamina Nid El Mourid's layered vocal harmonies provide a focus and a centre for the vivid and earthy mix of sounds.
They encore with a woozy Francophile blues, and leave one by one, until just the El Mourid sisters are left on stage in darkness, though they all return with the roadies to clear the stage for Tinariwen's show.
Tinariwen's set is being filmed, and they emerge, first as a trio of lead guitarist and singer Abdullah, percussionist Seyid and bassist Eyadou, all heavily swathed in their Tuareg costume. They're the lucky ones, as the Empire is freezing, presumably some ploy to reduce the stink of human sweat that has replaced the odour of tobacco since the smoking ban.
There's no smoke without fire on stage, though, and the band kick off a hypnotising two-hour set with "Cler Echal", from Aman Iman, the pulse of the electric guitars fusing with the beat of the calabash and Seyid's deep bass.
They may lack the voice and presence of singer Nina, who has recently given birth, but they have band elder Ibrahim, who emerges for the third number, and, though appearing somewhat frail, adds that crucial extra weight of sound and punctuating rhythm as the pulse of the music gathers together into a single, interwoven entity. Cross their pulsing live sound with On the Corner-era Miles Davis and you've a bootleg made in heaven.
One of the wonders of Tinariwen is that each one knows their part and each part fits as tightly as pieces in a mosaic. There's no showboating, no stuffing a big bundle of notes on the table here. A couple of new songs are configured with some fascinating, and quite innovatory, new chord structures, via which a different kind of freight comes through the music, and the encore, featuring the guest player (and their producer) Justin Adams, adds a shot of counterpoint to the band's dynamic, bringing Tinariwen's last UK concert of the year to a triumphant close.Reuse content