Malian rock band Tinariwen are among world music’s brightest stars. The ensemble (Wikipedia lists 20 current and former members) have, however improbably, risen from their home in the Saharan desert into international prominence, as demonstrated by collaborations with no less than the likes of Thom Yorke and Bono.
Tinariwen’s acclaimed two-decade-long career has rested upon their unique “desert blues” sound that combines their traditional Tuareg folk music with American folk-rock, inserting novel Berber percussion between dry guitar riffs on the familiar six-string. Also part of the mix is the beautiful Tamashek/Arabic singing that threads the line between chant and melody, and a commitment in their lyrics to Tuareg resistance against the Malian government.
Their status, rivaling that of Malian folk superstar Ali Farka Touré, makes it all the more disappointing that news of the band’s 2019 tour was met with racist comments on the Facebook page of The Ramcat, a Winston-Salem, N.C., music venue. Local alt-weekly Triad City Beat reported that after The Ramcat promoted the concert on its Facebook with a series of sponsored posts, racist language and even threats of violence began to crop up in their comments. One comment read: “So ISIS is playing the Ramcat? LOL.” Another referred to a racist slur for Sikhs and Muslims while berating the traditional Berber way of dress: “Take the f*cking towels off your god damn heads.” A third summed up the xenophobic sentiment succinctly: “Go home; maybe your country will like your music.”
The spate of comments largely revolved around the band’s perceived Muslimness, immigration status or violent intentions. At least one made death threats: “Gotta bring my AR, too … ” reads a comment quoted by the Triad City Beat.
In a statement to NPR, The Ramcat’s owner Andy Tennille said he found the comments “highly disturbing, hateful, and sad—very sad,” continuing:
If any of these commenters had done any sort of homework on the band, the Tuareg people or their history, they’d find that the band and the Tuareg people have been marginalized their entire lives—and that Tinariwen themselves have stood up to some of these kind of hateful and racist forces in North[western] Africa. It’s incredibly disappointing, and then probably the most disappointing thing of all is the fact that we’re talking about these misguided commenters, and what we’re not talking about is what an incredible band Tinariwen is.
Tennile also mentioned that while the Tinariwen show will go as planned, they intend to beef up security the night of the concert.
The racist comments came just a few days after Tinariwen announced their ninth album Amadjar, set to feature American rockers Cass McCombs and Sun O)))’s Stephen O’Malley. In the band’s native language, Tamashek, the album title means “the unknown visitor,” more specifically, “the one who seeks hospitality and who’s condemned to an inner exile, within a territory or within himself,” according to a press release. How appropriate for artists who feel unwelcome in both their musical homelands: virtually exiled from Mali after Islamist extremists kidnapped one of their own members as the country erupted into violence in 2012, and now discouraged from visiting the Southern states that gave them rock ‘n’ roll.
Amadjar is set for release Sept. 6 on ANTI- Records. Check out the third single from the album, “Zawal,” featuring Warren Ellis, Noura Mint Seymali and Jeiche Ould Chighaly, below. Further down, take a look at the full dates for Tinariwen’s North American tour.
Tinariwen North American Tour Dates:
12 – Austin, Texas @Paramount Theatre
14 – Dallas, Texas@Canton Hall
16 – Atlanta, Ga. @Variety Playhouse
17 – Winston-Salem, N.C. @The Ramkat
19 – Washington, D.C.@Lincoln Theatre
20 – Boston, Mass. @Royale
21 – New York, N.Y. @Webster Hall
22 – North Adams, Mass. @Freshgrass Festival
23 – Philadelphia, Pa. @Union Transfer
26 – Quebec City, Canada @Imperial Bell
27 – Montreal, Canada @QC Mtelus
28 – Toronto, Canada @Danforth Music Hall
30 – Pontiac, Mich. @Crofoot Ballroom
01 – Chicago, Ill. @Thalia Hall
02 – Los Angeles, Calif. @Hollywood Bowl*
04 – Denver, Colo. @Gothic Theatre
05 – Salt Lake City, Utah @Metro Music Hall
07 – Seattle, Wash. @Taper Auditorium
08 – Vancouver, B.C. @Commodore Ballroom
09 – Portland, Ore. @Crystal Ballroom
11 – San Francisco, Calif. @The UC Theatre
12 – San Diego, Calif. @Belly Up
(* – w/ Vampire Weekend)