It’s probably fitting that world music collective Tinariwen’s name translates to “empty places” — not just because it reflects the hardships faced by its members in their native Africa, but because it symbolizes their craft’s openness to interpretation.
The band, which has garnered copious acclaim over the years from well-known artists like Carlos Santana and former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, performed at The State Theatre Tuesday night for the inaugural show in the venue’s three-part World Music Series.
The next two concerts will take place in March and April and will feature Afro-Cuban All Stars and Jake Shimabukuro, respectively.
Tuesday night’s show was sponsored by Stax of Trax Records, the vinyl outlet located inside Webster’s Bookstore. The store’s owner, Josh Ferko, introduced the band and said he had been trying to book a show for them in the State College area for the past five years.
Tinariwen was preceded onstage by fellow world music solo artist Kishi Bashi, who was joined for most of his set by Tall Tall Trees vocalist and former Penn State student Mike Savino. The duo both demonstrated equally expansive vocal ranges, and through the use of a Line 6 DL4 delay pedal and the incorporation of beatboxing elements, Bashi laid to rest any concerns that a full band is needed to create complex harmonies.
Bashi also displayed admirable charisma during his set. Right before launching into “Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived,” he asked the audience if anyone shared a name with the song’s subject.
He didn’t seem disappointed when his query went unanswered.
“The Evalyn in this song is dead,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “Good for you.”
It wasn’t until around 9:45 p.m. that Tinariwen finally took the stage, adorned in intricately patterned robes and headwear.
The band’s lyrics were likely indecipherable by most if not all those in attendance, but that didn’t stop their visceral impact from carrying across the packed rows of seats. Several audience members couldn’t resist clapping along and swaying to the tribal rhythms inspired by the group’s experiences as soldiers in the Southern Sahara Desert.
While the theatre looked relatively full, the number of students present appeared to be lacking. This may just be due to the fact that it was a Tuesday night, but Jeff Kerby was able to make time for the venue’s celebration of other cultures.
“You don’t see things like this all that often,” Kerby (graduate-ecology) said. “This was really exciting for me.”
Nana Dawson-Andoh (graduate-clinical psychology), a volunteer at the theater, echoed Kerby’s remarks.
“Any time there’s any kind of culture in State College, I have to [see] it,” Dawson-Andoh said.