I am very prejudiced against the hippy drippy-style of dancing of some people – mostly women – during gigs by African bands. This dates back to seven or eight years ago when I saw a group of tribal dancers performing in St Georges Market in Belfast. Each dance and its significance was explained by a group member - some were performed to celebrate a birth, a wedding or a coming of age, others were to mourn a death or berate a turn of bad fortune. The musicians would then start up and the dancers in full tribal regalia would begin their highly stylised moves.
Meanwhile, infront of the stage, where the dancers and musicians were symbolically lamenting the death of child, a dozen or so women in tie-dye teeshirts and floaty skirts kicked off their moccasins and started twirling their hands, gyrating their hips and twisting their bodies in a free-from style of dance that they presumably thought of as 'ethnic'.
So when Tinariwen took to the stage last night in Dublin and started clunking at their guitars and battering their drums my heart sank as a few people tried to clap along and totally failed to find the rhythm - most guitar, bass and drum concerts follow a simple 4/4 beat, but this seemed to be in 6.5/11. By song three, however, things had settled into a slightly more clappable and danceable rhythmic pattern.
As opposed to the tribal group in St George's Market, Tinariwen were clearly keen to see their audience move, with various members swaying and clapping their hands out over the audience to help them get their rhythm.
Their songs are often played around a single droning guitar note with staccato guitar runs cutting across it, backed by bass, tribal drums and whole clatter of backing singers - although none of the females whose wails are so distinctive on Tinariwen's studio albums were on stage.
Tinariwan's main singer Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, although exotically dressed, was the only one not wearing flowing desert robes that covered the entire bodies and most of the band members'heads. He left the stage after the first two songs, which he sang, and the vocals were taken over by various other members of the group, until he reappeared for most of the rest of the set.
Tinariwen's music has been described as 'desert blues'. It has been argued that the blues, in the sense of American blues, evolved among the descendants of slaves in the American deep south. Musicologists have looked to tribal chants and wails to find the source of the blues.
In the case of Tinariwen the music has come home and they have taken American blues and adapted it to create their own unique style and punked it up a bit. It was Andy Kershaw who described Tinariwen as the closest thing he had ever seen live to the Clash.
Tinariwen seem to almost slip into each song, find a guitar grove, pick up a bass line, drums and then vocals that builds into a creshendo. The effect is dramatic and while the lyrics are often about the effects of drought and population displacement, the songs are infections and entirely danceable.
Not that I indulged myself, apart from some foot tapping.