Tinariwen & Sophie Hunger @ 9:30 Club, Washington DC - November 15, 2011.
Sophie Hunger starts the show off with a solo vocal that is pretty high on the Mesmer scale. Her two band members accompany her on all but one of the songs thereafter. Sophie adds a bit of guitar and keyboards to some of the songs. Her keyboard playing is excellent and probably could be featured more. But it really did not matter as the three of them created a fascinating array of sounds that really blended together.
One guy focused mostly on guitar while the other had trombone and percussion going most of the time. There was some flute and backing vocals, too. There is an exotic European feeling present and indeed they are from Switzerland. Since Switzerland has French, German, and Italian roots depending on the part of the country you are in, I would guess there was more Germanic approach here with a bit of Italian. Quick research shows she was born in Bern which is closer to the France/Italy borders, but she also lived in the more Germanic Zurich and the even more Germanic Bonn (as well as London).
But enough off the roots, the presentation tonight was breathtaking at times and solid throughout. The sound was folk, both gothic and traditional. There was a jarring yet successful Americana/folk song as well. The crowd was finally growing into, well a crowd and you could sense the growing excitement they were feeling with this set. It was accessible, yet daring in many spots.
This is her first US tour and if she does anywhere near as well in the rest of the cities, she should have a great future here. It was obvious to all as she took the time to say "thank you for being so kind. It's like you were hired... but you're not."
This band certainly looks like it came straight from the deserts of northern Mali. There is a buzz about this band and African music has really given us some exciting touring bands over the years, so there finally is a good crowd.
They have one percussionist, bass, backing vocalist, electric guitar, and lead vocals w/acoustic and electric guitar. The sound is familiar if you follow either generation of Toures along with other music of that region. It is well done and sounds great in the club.
The only problem I am feeling is that they lack the guitar excitement of the Toures, as well as the intense songwriting of a Thomas Mapfumo, or even the vocal prowess of a Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Rather they cozily fit in between it all. I should listen more as I am trying to figure out if I'm worn out by all the pop dance music I've heard tonight, or they simply don't have that extra gear needed to lift me to higher planes.
They did manage some nice grooves with their songs and reminded me of the African version of Canned Heat or other cool easy going psyche acts from the past. A solid band for sure, just one I will have to give a little more thought and listening to.
First published @ dcrocklive.blogspot.com.
Photo Credits: (1) Sophie Hunger (from website); (2) Tinariwen (by Walkin' Tom).