Live Concert Photography: Tinariwen with Lonnie Holley at Webster Hall 9/21/19
I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally acclaimed Algerian Tuareg pioneers of the desert blues and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen over the past handful of years. And as you may recall, the act can trace its origins back to the late 1970s when the band’s founding member, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (guitar) joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria. The rebels Ag Alhabib hooked up with had been influenced by radical chaabi protest music of groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Algerian pop rai, and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley — and they started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.
Despite a series of lineup changes, the JOVM mainstays have managed to tour regularly across the European Union, North American, Japan and Australia, playing some of the biggest festivals of the international touring circuit — and at some of the world’s biggest clubs and music venues. But one thing has been consistent: they’ve firmly established a sound that evokes the harsh and surreal beauty of their desert homeland, centered around the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, proud and rebellious people, whose old-fashioned way of life is rapidly disappearing as a result of increasing technology, Westernization and globalization.
Released earlier this year, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays latest album Amadjar finds the band recording in a natural setting, taking it back to the proverbial heart and soul of their band and sound. Accompanied by their French production team, who arrived in an old camper that had been converted into a makeshift studio, the band and production team traveled to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott, which can take about 12 days or so. Every evening, the caravan would stop to set up camp. The band would then get to work under the stars, working on material, talking through ideas and motifs. shaping the material into full-fledged songs. During a final two week camp in the desert around d Nouakchott, the band, joined by The Mauritanian griot Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly, recorded their songs under large tent in a few live takes, without headphones, effects or overdubs.
Once, the material was recorded, an All-Star collection of acclaimed Western musicians that included The Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who contributed violin; Micah Nelson, the son of the legendary Willie Nelson and a member of Neil Young‘s backing band, contributed mandolin and charango; Sunn O)))‘s Stephen O’Malley contributed guitar; Cass McCombs, who contributed guitar; and Rodophe Burger, who contributed guitar and vocals. All of those musicians added instrumentation and instrumental flourishes to the final result.
Lyrically and thematically, the album explores the continuing political, social, humanitarian and environmental problems faced in their home country of Mali and continues Tinariwen’s pursuit to highlight the plight and issues of their people through their music — from the collapse of infrastructure and public services, climate change and the ongoing political and military conflicts that have plagued their homeland since it gained independence in 1960.
Tinariwen have been on an extensive and lengthy international tour to support Amadjar that included a career-spanning headlining set at Webster Hall earlier this year. They’re finishing the European leg of their tour. Check out the remaining tour dates below, and photos from the show below.
11/12 – Bristol, UK – Trinity
11/13 – Manchester, UK – Manchester Cathedral
11/14 – London, UK – Earth
Opening the night was the Birmingham, AL-born and-based multi-disciplinary artist, art educator and musician Lonnie Holley. Sometimes known as The Sand Man, Holley may be best known for his assemblages and immersive environments made of found materials. From the time he was about five, Holley has worked a variety of jobs from picking up trash at a drive-in movie theater, washing dishes, as a cotton picker, chef and as a gravedigger. And as a child, he never had a stable home: he lived in a whiskey house on the state fairgrounds, in several foster homes — and the notorious juvenile facility, the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs. Holley began his creative and artistic life in earnest in 1979, when he carved tombstones for his sister’s two children, who tragically died in a house fire, out of a soft sandstone-like byproduct of metal casting, which was discarded by a foundry near his sister’s house. He believes that divine intervention led him to the material and inspired his art.
Holly went on to make other carvings and assembled them in his yard with various found objects. In 1981, he brought a few examples of his sandstone carvings to Birmingham Museum of Art director Richard Murray. The museum displayed some of those pieces immediately — and then Murray introduced Holley to the organization’s of that year’s “More Than Land and Sky: Art from Appalachia” exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum that year. His work was acquired by several other institutions including New York’s American Folk Art Museum, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and others — and he’s had work displayed at The White House. By the mid 1980s, Holley’s work had expanded to included paintings and recycled and found-object sculptures. His yard and the adjacent abandoned lots near his home became an highly-celebrated, immersive art environment, celebrated by the larger art world — but threatened by scrap metal scavengers and eventually, by the expansion of the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Holley eventually won a settlement in which the airport authority paid $165,700 to move Holley’s family and work to a larger property in Harpersville, AL. Holley’s first major retrospective Do We Think Too Much? I Don’t Think We Can Ever Stop” Lonnie Holley, A Twenty-Five Year Survey was organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art and traveled to the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK. From 2003-2004, Holley created a sprawling, sculptural environment at the Birmingham Museum of Art’s lower sculpture garden, as part of their “Perspective” series of site-specific installations. The creation of the installation was documented in Arthur Crenshaw’s film The Sandman’s Garden and in in photographers by Alice Faye “Sister” Love. He also installed sculptural work for the exhibition Groundstory: Tales from the shade of the South at Agnes Scott College’s Dalton Gallery, which ran from September 28 to November 17, 2012. Interestingly, that year, he released his debut album Just Before Music, which he followed up with 2013’s Keeping a Record of It. His third album, was 2018’s MITH, which was released through Jagjaguwar Records. Interestingly, his musical output seems to draw from the blues, avant-garde jazz and spirituals.