“I still can’t believe that I’ve just seen that!” That comment from one member of the sold-out audience for the Abdallah ag Alhousseyni and Andy Morgan gig at the Lantern Theatre probably sums up the feeling of everyone there. A truly wondrous evening in the company of two hugely talented, insightful and friendly people – exploring the history, people, music, culture, politics, religion and recent developments in Mali through the lens of Tinariwen and music more generally. Andy provided the basic structure of the story which was expanded and detailed through conversation with Abdallah – Andy translating between French and English. Starting with tales of their first meeting at the first Festival in the Desert, including the hijack of the lorry carrying the PA – eventually released for some packs of cigarettes – the evening ranged across the origins of the Touareg in Northern Mali; the first Touareg uprising in 1963; Abdallah’s early upbringing; desert life and culture; the roles of men, women and children; education and learning; religion; music – including “Iswat” (sung poetry) and the tinde drum; Gaddafi and the growth of Tinariwen out of the rebel movement in the 1980s … through to the impact of the crisis that overtook Mali in January 2012. Really too much to mention here … and absolutely fascinating from start to finish.
And of course Abdallah illustrated the evening with a selection of wonderful songs accompanied just on his acoustic guitar – playing such stripped back arrangements really added to the very personal sentiment of the night; instantly developing a strong connection with the audience. The haunting Saharan blues underpinned many of the songs, but he also demonstrated a real diversity of styles – with one song (Arawan) even having echoes of rap and hip hop. We were also treated to the first public performance of a song that he had written two years ago – that really cemented what a special occasion it felt. Another highlight was Andy reading translations of the songs that Abdallah had played – the beauty, poignancy and poetry of the lyrics were stunning. Questions from the audience picked up on some of the more personal aspects of Abdallah’s career and life – his answers showing him to be an intelligent, thoughtful and grounded human being despite being (as an audience member described him) an international music superstar.
All too soon it was time for the final song and then out into the Sheffield night, still thinking about the amazing one-off intimate session that we’d all been part of. Strange to think that the next night Abdallah was playing to 2,000 people with Tinariwen at the Roundhouse in London – this brief UK sojourn slotted between an extensive tour of the US and the rest of Europe. Andy had started the evening by saying that he and Abdallah had wanted to explore a format like TalkingGigs to allow an audience to get behind the wonderful music of Tinariwen and understand a bit more about the whys and wherefores of the music. This evening showed beyond doubt that the format really does work, so I hope that they will eventually tour a similar show. My thanks to both of them for making the trip north to create such a special and memorable occasion … and an open invitation to do part 2 any time!
Photographs by Joanna Ritchie
Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni (Tinariwen)
"I still can't believe that I've seen an international superstar in such a small setting - and learned so much about him, his music , Touareg culture. Really challenging ... amazing!"
Saturday 15th November 2014
The Lantern Theatre, Sheffield
Click below to watch a clip from the gig.