Tinariwen Mod Club, Toronto ON November 20

Sporting a lean line-up, Tinariwen took to the stage amid thunderous applause from the sold out crowd. Dressed in their traditional Tuareg garb, the musical nomads looked delightfully out of place in the hipster club, amongst a surprisingly high jock count in the audience. Well, considering Tinariwen’s music is rooted in the regional blues of Mali called "Tishoumaren” (music of the unemployed), it’s not so shocking to find the college crowd latching on. That’s the special charm of Tinariwen — their music is completely foreign in its scales and rhythms, yet based in the spirit of rock’n’roll. It was hilarious listening to the audience members attempt to clap along to the syncopated 6/4 rhythms. Displaying selflessness seldom seen in Western bands, the full line-up didn’t emerge until after the first song, when senior member Hassan joined Ibrahim, Abdallah, Mohammed and Sarid to contribute handclaps and harmony vocals, all the while dancing like a man possessed by joy. After the trio of guitarists seemed to establish an informal hierarchy of lead and rhythm during the first few songs, roles switched, and Hassan was strapping on an electric guitar to showcase his fearsome finger dexterity and songwriting. Ibrahim is the obvious leader, but that distinction means little. Each member, except the fantastically solid percussionist, rotated into principle focus, with the group’s most memorable material originating from an equal array of composers. It was fascinating to see Tinariwen adapt to a new audience, adopting their own versions of rock conventions. After using dynamic accelerations to climax the first few times, it was awe-inspiring to see the band end the night by holding steady and allowing Hassan’s electric dance movements to carry the audience into transcendence. A lengthy set with three double encores made for an experience that I hope won’t be once in a lifetime.