Violinist, beatboxer, and electronic one-man-indie-band Kishi Bashi, introduced Tinariwen last night at The ArtsCenter in a performance that could have easily been a stand-alone headliner. Gradually recording and layering melodic violin loops, ranging vocals, percussion sounds, and synth effects, he constructs his beautiful songs piece by piece in front of the audience. This process allows the listener to appreciate every part of the song individually and evokes curiosity and anticipation as to where the song will lead, what it will eventually become. What emerges harmoniously from the broken music is impassioned indie pop with the depth of a symphony.
As a gifted violinist, Kishi Bashi previously recorded and toured with Of Montreal and Regina Spektor. The audience’s cheers and enthusiasm were a testament to his growing popularity as he played songs from his 2011 EP Room for Dream and his recent 2012 album 151a. Recognized as one of the best new artists of 2012 by NPR’s All Songs Considered, Kishi Bashi revealed a creative progression of sound that that amazed fans and first-time listeners alike during his live solo act.
When Grammy-award winning “soldier musicians” Tinariwen took the main stage at The ArtCenter following Kishi Bashi, both group and audience got their Sahara Desert blues groove on. Since the 1980s, the Toureg rebels of Tinariwen have used music as their way to speak against the injustices of their nomadic people, forced into sedentary life, and the unforgiving nature of the desert.
Electric and acoustic guitars, simple percussion including a calabash drum, soft vocals, and an occasional shepherd’s flute create their unique rock and roll sound. Although their music has roots in the West African tradition, the members of Tinariwen (who have changed throughout the years) were influenced by Western icons like Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and Led Zeppelin.
The fusion of musical styles was apparent during their performance, which was full of funky bass lines and electric guitar riffs. Much of the crowd left their seats after the first couple of songs and migrated toward the front of the stage to dance throughout the night to the compelling rhythms. The musicians’ smiles, dancing, and upbeat guitar-driven music encouraged the crowd to participate. Tinariwen recorded their most recent album Tassili isolated in the southern Sahara Desert around a campfire. Listening to one of the slow, mournful ballads you could almost imagine being part of that communion in the intimate atmosphere of the theater.