Tinariwen – Powerstation: May 29, 2024: (13th Floor Concert Review)

Tinariwen is not desert rock, as in Yawning Man, Kyuss and QTSA, but desert blues, a synthesis of traditional West African music, funneled through guitar-fusion, with an influence of blues and Americana.

TenariwenAnd as the blues emerged as a musical (and cultural) allegory of the experiences by American Southern black communities to oppression and disadvantage in the pre and post-Civil War. So in a not too dissimilar manner,  Malian group Tinariwen’s version of desert blues, draws on the personal and historical experiences of the Tuareg people since 1962, as their post-colonialism homeland lurches between periods of war, revolution and repression.

(Loosely) formed about 1979, it was only in the 2000s that Tinariwen started gaining a reputation in Western circles, particularly in Europe, and ultimately gained fans that included the likes of Thom Yorke, Cat Power, and Wilco, and opportunities to collaborate with the likes of The Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis, Jack White and Kurt Vile.

This  tour comes on the back since the release of the band’s ninth studio album, Amatssou (“Beyond The Fear”), described as a next step in the band’s journey as they make ongoing connections between their desert blues, the blues of rural America and German psych-rock (think CAN)


LEAOSince 2018ish, LEAO aka David Feauai-Afaese has been creating music that synthesises his Samoan heritage, traditional Samoan-pop (The Samoan Surfriders) with his love of UK 80’s rock and post punk. How do I know this? Well, David features in a fascination 2023 University of Auckland Masters Thesis by Mary-Agnes Leota-Sao titled ‘E Sui Faiga ae Tumau Faavae:” O le Malaga o le Musika Sāmoa’ which chronicles the journey of Samoan Music in Aotearoa.

LEAO’s 2019 digital EP GHOST ROADS reeks of indie alt pop, early period lo-fi sensibilities and his own Samoan whakapapa, which all fits into his concept of Fa’aaloalo, to act with the many faces.  Tonight’s show was their first since being blunted by the Covid period, and the three piece had become a four-piece of bass, drums, lap steel guitar, and David on vox and guitar. 

It’s pretty chilled onstage as David tunes, takes off his guitar, then puts it back on. For a moment I’m looking for the ghost of Bill Sevisi as the steel guitar and vocals foment Samoan, however the drum and bass are indie. There is a funk to the first few songs, I may be right, or maybe I’m wrong but isn’t that a version of the Hues Corporation 1974 hit Rock The Boat, sung in Samoan?

A drum machine booms unexpectedly, but it’s the addition of a Samoan pake (drum)that creates a banging meld,  white boy (sic) guitar. Overlays in a very 80s post-punk sound LEAO are now voyaging into the palagi oceans. I hear elements of the great Orange Juice (Edwyn Collins) As songs continue I’m reminiscing of seeing Bird Nest Roy‘s in the 90’s, it’s the off kilter post punk pop melodies.with pasifika guiding the way. 

Tonight LEAO had many faces: the lap steel guitar, the post-punk drumming and guitar, a funky bassman, and Gagana Samoa at the forefront. Memorizing! Brilliant! 


Tenariwen‘Welcome to the Sahara!’ What must the members of Tinariwen think on a blustery wet and cold midweek day in Tamaki Makaurau? The catch phrase to litter tonight’s performance is possibly mirthful banter, but it illustrates distances traveled by this collective of musicians on their return to Aotearoa.

Immediately there are many robed figures, funky moves, simultaneous, repetitious chanting vocals, assouf guitar rhythms, a beat courtesy of a traditional drum (or sometimes on a a domish contraption) played by hand in an off beat, based on emphasising the 3rd rather than 4th (as is Western convention)

There is little banter, the two of the three upfront use their bodies and their hands to also sing the story, as they weave in and out of the front, Their hands meld outwards, inviting attention, like the music itself it feels inclusive, it’s enveloping.

Three guitarists on stage, not all engaged simultaneously, not always electric, and like the hands of the two, their instruments are at the fore also working the crowd. Like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Happy Mondays they have their own dancer, a shimmering in white, emphasising the rhythms and giving the favoured thumbs up. Surrealism of the Sahara.


The smooth, enticing, anchoring, bouncing tones of bass, and the rhythmic djembe percussion created an almost dance party vibe amongst the crowd, the many youngsters perhaps seeing Tinariwen for the first time, maintained the energy as the more experienced retreated late in the show to rest bones (but still clap on cue)

From the faces of Tinariwen it was plain they were having a great time, and while the frugal dialogue included “Are you happy?” I’m sure by  the end of the night, all in the room, including the band, were thinking “I am happy tonight”.

Simon Coffey

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Aaron Christiansen