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Category: desert blues

Dag Tenere’s New Album Explores Subtly Diverse, Hypnotic Saharan Sounds

Duskcore band Dag Tenere – “Desert Children” in Tamasheq – are a Saharan supergroup of sorts. Their take on Tuareg psychedelic rock is both cutting-edge, with a lot of two-guitar interplay, but also very much rooted in otherworldly, centuries-old traditional sounds. Their new album Iswat – “Jam,” more or less – is streaming at Bandcamp. Having a woman – percussionist Zaina Aboubacar – on lead vocals on some of these tunes is actually an ancient tradition, although one that’s been conspicuously absent over the last several decades as the style has developed and grown more electric, and it’s a welcome touch.

The opening instrumental is just former Etran Finatawa guitarist Goumar Abdoul Jamil’s haphazardly flaring melody and Aboubacar’s loping tendé drum, The album closes with the title track, an equally brief, celebratory traditional number sung by Aboubacar over a simple tendé beat. In between, other members of the group take turns out in front.

Guitarist Ibrahim Ahmed Guita moves to the mic for Tihoussay Tenere, a steady, pensively undulating contemplation of leaving the comfort of the desert for the city, set to a spare, spiky, hypnotic web of guitars. Jamil takes over a far more spare acoustic lead and shares vocals with Aboubacar in Tabsit, a tender love song.

They also deliver a subtly dynamic, intricately textured cover of Tinariwen‘s Koud Edhaz Emin and follow that with Anna, Guita sending a fond shout-out to his mom as bassist Zouher Aroudaini bubbles over the edge. If the shamanic, psychedelic twang and clang of desert rock from Mali, Niger and thereabouts is your thing, you can get very lost in this.

Sizzling Psychedelic Guitar Sounds From Niger on Mdou Moctar’s New Album

The first sounds on Niger duskcore guitarist Mdou Moctar‘s new album Afrique Victime – streaming at Spotify – are from a barnyard. Then his guitar explodes into the mix, shedding reverb and microtones. Rhythm player Ahmoudou Madassane hits a blast of a chord and they’re off, bassist Mikey Coltun adding a tersely simmering edge over drummer Ahmoudou Madassane’s skittishly hypnotic groove. Moctar fires off a flaring, hammering solo, signaling the band to take the song doublespeed. It’s a good approximation of how Moctar works in concert – and it sets the stage for the rest of the record. As assouf music goes, this is as wild as it gets. Vieux Farka Toure‘s electric work may be more totally unhinged, but this is heftier, with the two guitars going full blast.

Moctar sings in his native vernacular, so for English-speaking audiences, the lure here is the guitar pyrotechnics. Moctar hits a long series of rapidfire hammer-on riffs through a wah as a camelwalking, loping groove and a dense, dreampop-like ambience develops in the album’s second number. Track three, a rustic but energetic acoustic-electric tune, is titled Ya Habibi, so you know that one’s for the ladies.

After that, the band hit a more delicately loping rhythm with hypnotic tinges of Indian music, the two acoustic guitars out front til the end. Moctar wails and does a good Saharan David Gilmour impression in his solo intro to the number after that, with slash-and-burn over tricky syncopation. It turns out to be the album’s catchiest anthem.

Layla is not the FM rock warhorse but a mostly acoustic, catchy, undulating original with a riff that Muddy Waters once made famous – or someone long before Muddy Waters made famous in Moctar’s part of the world. The album’s title track, which Moctar sings in a French patois, is the album’s hardest-rocking, angriest moment and features his wildest shredding. For a guy who’s this fast, he doesn’t waste notes – and that White Light White Heat jam over Coltun’s fuzz bass is the last thing you’d expect.

Moctar winds up the record with a lush, bustling, upbeat acoustic-electric number: just another moonlight mile down the road. Moctar pretty much lives there, lockdown or no lockdown. His next unrestricted American concert appears to be this coming Sept 15 at 8 PM-ish at Ace of Cups, 2619 North High Street in Columbus, Ohio. Cover is $18. Best to check with the venue close to showdate to see if there are any actual restrictions: if so, stay home.

Malian Guitar Powerhouse Makes a Welcome Return, More Psychedelic Than Ever

The backstory to Malian guitarslinger Anansy Cissé’s new album Anoura (Songhai for “Light” and streaming at Spotify) is a very troubling, but ultimately triumphant one. He’d already recorded some of it by 2018, when he was invited to play a festival in his hometown near Timbuktu. On the way there, he and his band were attacked and abducted by thugs, who destroyed his equipment. Devastated, Cissé shelved the project and retreated to doing studio production work. But he recovered, regrouped the band and the result is a cutting-edge, deliciously psychedelic album.

The instrumentation reflects Cissé’s blend of traditional desert sounds and jamband rock. Abdoulaye Kone and Bakari Diarra share the ngoni chair, with Abrahmane Toure on bass, Mahalmadane Traore on percussion and bass as well, with the late Zoumana Tereta on single-string soku fiddle on two tracks, quite possibly the Malian master’s final studio appearance.

They open the album with Tiawo (Education), Cissé essentially telling everybody to free themselves from mental slavery over a slowly swaying, melancholy minor-key vamp, his web of reverbtoned washes, skittishly loopy riffs and searing, distorted hammer-ons contrasting with the spiky ngoni.

He follows with a couple of festival anthems. Foussa Foussa, a catchy, neon-lit roadhouse blues shuffle returned closer to its roots, has more of those blazing, reverb-infused riffs and a sly dub breakdown. Tiara has tricky syncopation that reminds of the Grateful Dead during their late 60s flirtation with Indian music, plus trippy sheets of feedback and distortion filtering behind the intertwine of overdubs.

Cissé, a shout-out to his marabout ancestors, has a relaxed, hypnotically loping groove and a gentle call-and-response, enhanced by the looming reverb riffs throughout the sonic picture. Mina, the album’s most bizarre mashup, is a brisk minor-key stoner boogie awash in wah-wah and buzzy distortion.

The band return to more stark, darkly lingering ambience with Nafa (Patience), complete with icy gothic chorus-box bass. Tereta’s acidic, trumpet-like melismas raise the energy in the acoustic-electric textures of Talka (Poverty). For whatever reason, Balkissa, a love song to Cissé’s wife, is the most anthemic and rock-oriented track here.

Nia (Mothers) has the most richly melodic blend of simmering, jangly harmonies and multitracks, Tereta’s soku adding ghostly texture in the back of the mix. The message of the album’s slowly crescendoing final cut, Djam Maganouna is basically “you’re a creep, and people have long memories.” May we all live long enough to have memories of this album…and get to enjoy another one from this irrepressibly creative guitarist.

Firebrand Malian Chanteuse Oumou Sangare Returns to Her Roots

Pioneering Malian singer Oumou Sangare doesn’t put out as many albums as she used to, but she’s never wavered as an advocate for women’s rights in a part of the world where that idea is still considered radical, even taboo, in some circles. Her new album, simply titled Acoustic and streaming at youtube, is a collection new recordings of previously released material, most of it from her unfortunately overproduced 2017 Mogoya album. The resulting sound, recorded live and completely unamplified, is much more traditional, although Sangare’s lyrical content has always been daring, beginning with her first Malian hit in 1989 where she chronicled losing her virginity.

That song, Diaraby Nene is even more spare than the original, set to a spare, loping beat, Sangare joined by backing singers Emma Lamadji and Kandy Guira. The album’s opening number, Kamelemba sets the stage for most of what’s to come, a muted two-chord desert rock vamp with a big crescendo from the bandleader, virtuosically circling ngoni from Brahima “Benogo” Diakité, exuberant guitar from Guimba Kouyaté and a little keening toy organ played by Vincent Taurelle

The organ is a surreal touch in the spiky, shuffling Fadjamou; Sangare’s voice is a tinge huskier than it was thirty years ago, but she hasn’t lost any power. She builds a moodily questionining atmosphere in the syncopated Minata Waraba, while Saa Magn – a requiem for Orchestre National Badema’s Amadou Ba Guindo – has breathtaking fast, delicate guitar work from Kouyaté and spare, twinkling celeste from Taurelle.

Likewise, Kouyaté’s hammer-ons in the anthemic call-and-response of Bena Bena, more somber and circumspect in this version. With its camelwalking groove and sheets of organ, KounKoun is the album’s most hypnotic track. Then Sangare and the band pick up the pace with Djoukourou, its chugging rhythm, flurrying ngoni and guitar.

The band follow a long upward trajectory from sparse airiness in Yere Faga. The album’s most musically adventurous, rhythmically challenging number is Mali Niale. Sangare winds up the album with the pensive title track from Mogoya, Kouyaté adding more than a hint of the baroque. Fans of both older and more guitar-centric Malian music ought to check this out

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra Bring a Wild Salsa Party to Curry Hill

Remember when you couldn’t walk down the avenue anywhere in the five boroughs without hearing salsa blasting from every other car and delivery van? Back in the day, it was such a welcoming sound to come home to, especially after being outside the country. Reggaeton and cumbia may have eclipsed salsa as Latino New York’s default party music, but it isn’t just oldtimers who’re keeping it alive. The Spanish Harlem Orchestra don’t play as many gigs as they used to, so if classic 70s salsa dura is your thing, their three-night stand at the Jazz Standard this Feb 21-24 is for you. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is a hefty $35, but remember the club doesn’t have minimums. On the other hand, nobody’s going to blame you if you can’t resist the barbecue: keep in mind they share a kitchen with Blue Smoke upstairs.

The band’s latest album, Anniversary is streaming at youtube. It’s a mix of originals and imaginatively reinvented standards. The opening track, Esa Nena sets the stage with a 70s Fania Records blueprint: blazing brass, playful polyrhythms, energetic call-and-response and a pulsingly catchy, vamping Afro-Cuban groove.

Yo Te Prometo is a bristling bolero in bright salsa disguise. Underneath the brassy gusts and insistent drive of Dime Tu, there’s a hypnotic thicket of woodblock and bongos, the timbales coming further toward the front alongside a honking Mitch Frohman baritone sax solo. The song’s message of solidarity carries special resonance in these xenophobic times.

Goza Al Ritmo has a shadowy solo from pianist Oscar Hernández. A tantalizingly brief, punchy trumpet solo and a go-for-broke outro cap off the mighty dance anthem Echa Pa’Lante. Guaracha y Bembe is a distinctly New York update on 50s Cuban big band majesty: singer Marco Bermudez calls this the soundtrack for a crazy night, and he isn’t kidding.

Y Deja and La Media Vuelta are more romantic, looking back to the 80s and then a couple of decades further, respectively. Cancion Para Ti is the poppiest, most 80s-flavored track here, Jeremy Bosch’s flute fluttering in and out. Como Te Quise has some unexpected baroque moments from the brass – Reynado Jorge and Doug Beavers on trombones, Hector Colon and Maneco Ruiz on trumpets.

Tres Palabras – another spiced-up bolero – has a deliciously lush, nocturnal atmosphere: it comes across as a more lavishly orchestrated counterpart to Bio Ritmo. Likewise, Somos Uno has a pouncing intensity along with a bubbling, triumphant trumpet cameo from Randy Brecker, The album’s final track is Soy El Tambor, a mighty, tumbling coda to over an hour’s worth of music. 

First and foremost, this is a party in a box. Lyrically, the songs celebrate pretty women, getting out on the floor and rhythmic sabrosura, with more serious references to the music’s cultural and historical value. At this point in history, salsa is a legacy genre like Chicago blues, roots reggae and bluegrass; there aren’t as many people taking it to new places anymore and this is one group who still are.

Delgrès Bring Their Politically-Charged Electric Update on French Caribbean Folk to Joe’s Pub

Delgrès are one of the most refreshingly unique and relevant bands around. Their sound is an often surreal, propulsively catchy mashup of amped-up French Caribbean folk, electric blues and New Orleans groove, with occasional detours into garage rock and even loping Saharan psychedelia. The trio play a mix of originals and allusive, sardonic traditional Guadeloupian freedom fighter songs from the 1920s and 30s…with guitar, drums and sousaphone. As hard-hitting as much of this music is, the lyrics can be surprisingly subtle and allusive, no surprise considering that the originators of many of these songs were living under an occupation. The group’s new album Mo Jodi (Die Today) is streaming at Spotify, and they’re playing Joe’s Pub on Sept 25 at 9:30 PM. General admission is $20.

The opening track, Respecte Nou is a romping garage rock tune, closer to the Yardbirds or the early Pretty Things covering Sonny Boy Williamson than, say, the White Stripes. In place of a bass, Rafgee’s  sousaphone is more prominent here than it is on the other tracks. The lyrics address self-respect and the need to stand up to the boss. Here’s a rough translation from the original Kreyol:

We’ve been shifting wine
Moving rum
Handling cotton
Today this all has to stop!

The album’s title track is a defiant revolutionary anthem inspired by the band’s namesake, 18th century Guadeloupian freedom fighter Louis Delgrès. Set to a Mississippi hill country blues stomp, the message is essentially “I’d rather die than slave for you.”

Mr. President opens with a hilarious Lyndon Johnson sample, then drummer Baptiste Brondy hits a hard-hitting sway and guitarist Pascal Danaë blends lingering jangle, keening slide licks and Pink Floyd resonance. The lyric is a plea directed at an unnamed authority figure instead of anyone specific.

Vivre Sur la Route (Life on the Road) is a lilting love song with echoes of Jamaican mento (the shuffling folk style that spawned calypso and then roots reggae). Séré Mwen Pli Fo (Hold Me Tighter) rises unexpectedly toward stadium-rock heft, with a vocal cameo from chanteuse Skye Edwards. Then the band add tinges of circling, hypnotic Malian desert rock over boisterous syncopation in Can’t Let You Go.

Ti Manmzel (slangy translation: My Sweetheart) could be the White Stripes taking a stab at reggae, a come-on from a musician onstage to a cute girl in the audience. Anko, a triumphant protest anthem, is a return to the north Mississippi/Mali blend. Set to the album’s most dynamic, bitingly majestic backdrop, Ramene Mwen (Take Me Back) is a characteristically sardonic example of the corrosively allusive lyrics that pervade much of Guadeloupian freedom-folk: if you don’t like how my rice and peas smell, let me go back to Africa, the narrator tells the slaver.

The album closes with the hypnotic riffs of Chak Jou Bon Di Fe (Every Single Day), a protest song, then the muted, spare Pardone Mwen (Forgive Me), which could be about familial angst or something more metaphorical. And just when you think the album’s over, wait! There’s more! At Lincoln Center back in July, the band put on a show every bit as energetic as this album, which bodes well for the Joe’s Pub gig.

Two Great Psychedelic Bands, One Free Brooklyn Concert Series

Two Saturdays ago, Sadies guitarist Travis Good thrashed and flailed and spun the headstock of his vintage hollowbody Gretsch, building a howling vortex of sound while his brother Dallas stood more or less motionless as he kept a river of jangle and clang running from his Telecaster. In the middle of the stage, bassist Sean Dean held down a steady pulse while drummer Mike Belitsky kept a nimble shuffle beat.

This past Saturday, Songhoy Blues guitarist Aliou Touré did pretty much the same thing, building a screaming Chicago blues-infused solo, his fellow axeman Garba Touré running a loping Malian duskcore pattern off to the side, bassist Oumar Touré playing a serpentine, circular riff over drummer Nathanael Dembélé’s counterintuiitive flourishes.

On one hand, the Canadian and Malian bands couldn’t have less in common. On the other, both are as psychedelic as you could possibly want. And that seems to be the theme at this year’s free outdoor concert series at Union Pool. They’ve been doing free shows in the back courtyard there for the past couple of years, but this year’s series is better than ever.

There are a lot of acts more popular than you’d expect to see in at this comfortable, comparatively small space. This year, that started with the Sadies. The last time they played New York, it was at Webster Hall (if there ever was a New York venue that deserved to be turned into a luxury condo or a Whole Foods, it was that despicable stain on the East Village). The last time this blog was in the house at a Sadies show, it was May of 2014 at Bowery Ballroom and they were playing with the late Gord Downie.

This show didn’t feature any of their brilliantly ominous songs with the late Tragically Hip crooner, but they touched on every style they’ve ever played. Travis Good broke out his violin for a lickety-split punkgrass romp about midway through the set, and also for the encores. He also delivered some seamlessly expert acoustic flatpicking on a couple of country numbers.

Dallas Good seemed to be in charge of the more epic, tectonic solos, particularly during a mini-suite of surf songs, propelled expertly by Belitsky. They went back into the waves a little later with another instrumental that came across as a more bittersweet, southwestern gothic take on the Ventures’ Apache. But it was the brooding, uneasily clanging midtempo anthems that were the high point of the show. Afterward, Travis Good took care to thank the crowd for coming out – for a free show, no less.

Songhoy Blues are probably the loudest and most eclectic of the Malian duskcore bands to make it to the US so far. They only played a couple of the loping Saharan grooves popularized by first-wave bands like Tinariwen and Etran Finatawa. They opened with a briskly stomping, only slightly Malian-flavored garage rock tune with a searing guitar solo from Garba Touré. Throughout the set, he and the frontman took turns with their solos – a lightning-fast, Blue Oyster Cult-ish run in one of the long, hypnotic numbers midway through was the high point.

After that, they slowed down for a moody minor-key blues ballad that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Otis Rush songbook save for the lyrics. “I know that 99% of you don’t understand a word I’m saying,” Aliou Touré told the crowd: the subtext was that the band’s lyrics are potently political. Then he settled for reminding everybody that music is a universal language. After a couple of numbers that shifted between looming desert rock and frenetically bopping, metrically challenging soukous-flavored rhythms, they closed with a mighty, rising and falling anthem and encored with their lone song in English, Together, a prayer for peace from a part of the world that really needs it.

And a shout-out to the sound guy: this may be an outdoor series, but the sonics in the backyard – a completely uninsulated space with highs potentially bouncing all over the place – were pristine. Few venues sounds as good indoors as at Union Pool outdoors the past couple of Saturdays. That’s a real achievement. The Union Pool free concert series continues this Saturday, July 14 at around 3 with jangly British “power trio” Girl Ray.

A Rare, Relatively Intimate Lincoln Center Show by Mauritanian Force of Nature Noura Mint Seymali

“It is gonna be an amazing performance,” beamed Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh, who’d booked Noura Mint Seymali for an extremely rare, relatively intimate show last night. Relatively, since the Lincoln Center atrium space is still a pretty big room, although it’s hardly the size of the stadiums the Mauritanian singer headlines at festivals around the world.

As with Amadou & Mariam’s psychedelic show last night at a much more cavernous venue, Seymali and band switched between hypnotic vamps and big anthemic choruses, although Seymali’s vocals were vastly more intense. In that sense, it felt vicarious to be oblivious to the lyrical content and watch her belting, her brows knitted, fingers chastising the crowd or spurring their responses throughout a mix of songs in her native Arabic vernacular that drew equally on Islamic religious imagery, ancient folk narratives and pressing global issues.

Her husband, Strat player Jeiche Ould Chighaly kicked off the night with a shivery series of hammer-on accents over a hypnotically swaying beat, then the blue-robed singer took the stage and fired off a shivery round of sound on her ardine harp. That hardly foreshadowed the powerful, melismatic contralto wail she cut loose with as the band built ambience behind her. Chighaly played slide-style with his fingers over the music’s fat, undulating low end from bassist Ousmane Touré and drummer Matthew Tinari.

Seymali pierced the crowd with her relentless stare and her uneasy quavers and trills as Chigaly worked the subtlety of the microtones in between, throughout a slow, ba-bump Mauritanian blues that ended cold. They picked up the pace with a similarly insistent, Saharan-tinged sway, Seymali and Chigaly trading off jaunty riffage: Mauritanian modes are just a hair off the western scale, compared to the biting chromatics of, say, Arabic music, just enough to lend an extra layer of unease. Chigaly turned on his flange for extra warp behind Seymali’s volleys of melismatics as the groove and the volume continued to pick up steam, then shadowed her with some upper-register flash. Reaching deep for a sudden wail, she drew an awestruck response from the crowd.

The number after that came across as slightly microtonal Veracruz folk – who knew? – with another big vocal crescendo and a practically accusatory bridge, Seymali’s vocals and Tinari’s drums pouncing in tandem. She held her notes dramatically as Chighaly slunk and clinked through his wah pedal, the rhythm section taking the pulse up a notch.

They made a singalong out of a funky, catchy Black Angel’s Death Song of sorts, then took a turn into pounding, Velvets-influenced mathrock that they suddenly straightened the kinks out of and went flying into doublespeed, Chighaly coloring it with some wry sirening effects. The show reached peak intensity as the rhythm section shuffled, Seymali running a breathless phrase over and over. They closed with the title track of their album Arbina, a fervently hypnotic, vampingly funky quest for healing.

The next free show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is next Thursday, June 14 at 7:30 PM with Mediterranean folk-pop singer Piers Faccini

Hypnotically Slinky, Irresistible Grooves on the Latest Amadou & Mariam Tour

Sometimes all it takes is new keyboards to completely transform a psychedelic band. At Malian legends Amadou & Mariam’s show at Prospect Park last summer, those keys were usually lush and orchestral, giving the husband/wife duo a majestic Pink Floyd backdrop for their mesmerizing, undulating, psychedelic tunesmithing. In the set’s funkiest moments, those textures gave the group more of a Talking Heads feel. But last night at the group’s latest New York stop on their never-ending tour, keyboardist Charles-Frédérik Avot channeled the Doors’ Ray Manzarek with his spiraling, Balkan-tinged organ and surrealistically echoey electric piano. Those carnivalesque timbres were a perfect fit with the duo’s signature blend of trancey Malian duskcore, hot buttered American soul and uneasy 60s acid rock.

They’re one of the genuine feel-good stories of the last several decades: Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met at a school for the blind, married and have gone on to become a major draw on the global jamband and outdoor festival circuit. As usual, Mariam would do a three-song set and then be escorted offstage for a break while Amadou stood inscrutable behind his shades, moving effortlessly between oldschool 60s soul, spare janglerock and energetically unwinding spirals of blues. He soloed like crazy at that Brooklyn gig last summer, but this time out he unleashed a grand total of three solos. The first might have gone twelve bars, tops. The second featured a mysterious, watery blend of wah and reverb; the last was the longest, and most evocative of the wildfire American blues legend Amadou often brings to mind, Albert Collins. The premise last night seemed to be to keep everybody wanting more.

Mariam also induced goosebumps throughout the crowd when her voice took an unexpected flight up toward the stratosphere on a midtempo jangle-soul number midway through the set: vocally, she hasn’t lost a step. And she made an unselfconsciously fetching presence when she reached over to her guitarslinger husband and stroked his shoulder during the last of the band intros: the affection between the two is also still there.

Their lyrics shift between Bambara and French, between the romantic and the political. Amadou’s long introduction to La Confusion, an African unity anthem, underscored how daunting and Kafkasque it is to simply engage with a totalitarian regime, let alone bargain with one. By contrast the band transformed Bofou Safou – a blippy, techy mess on record – into a mighty, unstoppable, whoomp-whoomp dancefloor anthem fueled by the turbocharged beats of drummer Yvo Abadi and percussionist Joel Hierrezuelo, the group’s bassist vamping his way along with a growling, gritty tone.

Among African cities that the duo sent a shout out to, Bamako seemed to be best represented in the crowd. But Amadou didn’t need to give the rest of the audience a French lesson to get them singing along to Je Pense a Toi (Thinking About You), one of their catchiest, most popular and lighthearted numbers. They finally called it a night after over an hour and a half onstage, pretty impressive for a midweek show in the middle of nowhere in outer-borough post-industrial warehouse-land.

After a stop at Bonnaroo, the best ticket to the ongoing Amadou & Mariam tour is for the June 15-16 stand at San Francisco’s SF Jazz at 201 Franklin St., where you can get in for $30.

A Blazing, Psychedelic Night of Heavy Algerian Rock at Lincoln Center

“We love to present amazing work from around the world that reflects the population of this city as well,” Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal said with relish, welcoming Imarhan onstage this past evening. Imarhan – whose name translates as “the posse” – are Algerian, not to be confused with the similarly named Imharhan, who are essentially the electric version of Malian traditional group Tartit. With two vintage Gibson guitars, incisively trebly bass, thumping drums and calabash, Imarhan play a distinctly North African take on American psychedelic and garage rock that resembles its northern hemispheric influences a lot more than loping Tuareg duskcore. Their music is faster, and louder, yet just as trippy as the sounds coming from deeper into the Maghreb.

The catchy, snapping bassline that anchored their first song of the night could have been a Zombies riff, the two guitars flinging out shards of minor-key chords. The second number was sort of a mashup of Tinariwen and Brian Jonestown Massacre. When the wah-wah guitar kicked in after the second verse as the bass ran a bouncy six-note blues riff over and over, it was as adrenalizing as it was hypnotic – and then the band ended it suddenly, cold. After that, the snarling Brian Jones-style blues licks – a more focused Sympathy For the Devil, maybe – in the pounding, undulating song after that came as no surprise. What was unexpected was the long, gritty Haiballah Akhamouk guitar solo that took the song straight into a dust storm for extra unease.

Imarhan’s lyrics – in Tamasheq and Arabic – are brooding, pensive, often angry. They speak of longing, the exhaustion of war, the constant angst of life in exile, and once in awhile, guarded hope for a peaceful future. For those in the crowd unable to grasp those specifics, the group let the restlessness of the music speak for itself, particularly in the careening guitar lines of bandleader/Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane a.k.a. Sadam.

If there’s such a thing as heavy disco, it was the group’s fourth song, grounded by a bassline that at halfspeed would have been reggae but at this close-to-breakneck pace took on a snap and crackle beneath the radiant, ringing reverb of the guitars’ minor chords rang. They really went into overdrive after that, almost bluegrass speed, up to a big, defiant stadium rock chorus – by now most of the crowd, a mix of expats and the divergent demographics typically found at shows at the atrium space here – were on their feet and clapping along.

They flipped the script after that, bringing the music down, awash in resignation and regret before building back up to one of the night’s most ferociously bluesy crescendos, fueled by the bandleader’s offhandedly savage, heavy blues riffage on his old Gibson SG. From there the guitars spun out a sinister web over a lickety-split offbeat groove, then went in a psychedelic funk direction, almost an Algerian take on early Santana. Rhythms grew trickier and more traditional, bringing to mind Niger bands like Etran Finatawa, before the group picked up the pace again with a little sardonic hip-hop flavor.

The encores were an unexpectedly traditional, low-key duskcore tune that could have been a Tinariwen cover, and a ferocious final stomp with a grittily spiraling bass solo that was arguably the high point of the night. There have only been a few bands this loud at Lincoln Center in recent years – a reunion by legendary Detroit proto-punks Death, and an explosive early evening set by Moroccan rockers Hoba Hoba Spirit come to mind – but this was probably as heavy as any show anywhere in New York this evening. 

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space is next Thursday, May 10 at 7:30 with another powerful act, Detroit blues belter and bandleader Thornetta Davis. Get there early if you’re going.