Tuareg guitar sound may be considered the calling card of West African music, especially in the Saharan Desert regions, and Niger is rich with Tuareg musicians. On Wednesday, July 17, Tal National brought some of that West African magic to Nectar Lounge in support of their latest release, Tantabara. The band brought five of its members for this tour, three of whom are virtuoso Tuareg guitar players. The influence of Nigerian afrobeat was noticeable in the lush percussion, which was held down primarily by a single drummer on a full drum set with occasional help from a talking hand drum played by another member. Tal National took the stage and filled the whole space with its joyous sound. The show was not sold out, and the audience was thankful for the extra space to move. The band led the crowd to dance by stepping to the beat through the entire set. The guitar section followed the lead singer as he shimmied to the ground and picked himself back up again. The audience shimmied along, not a single person withholding the urge to dance.
Despite the language barrier, Tal National was determined to communicate their message. A senior member of the band would preface each song by explaining the content. One song was about calling after a lost goat while another song was about experiencing first love. Although the subject matter may not have been entirely relatable, the audience devoured the singers interpretation of events. He would wail into the microphone until sweat ran down his face, and then he would explode into celebratory movement. The band shared a song about speaking to the ancient spirits in Niger, which involves a dance called the Trance Dance, which the lead singer whole-heartedly demonstrated. He stepped to the beat, waved his arms, and eventually was pulsing on his hands and knees to the music, showing the audience that the spirit was alive and present at the Nectar. After he did three ritual coughs, welcomed the spirits, and took a drink of water, the set resumed with its full tenacity.
The audience was in a dancing frenzy, jumping and writhing with the band to show how much everyone connected with the sound. Tal National brought a couple members of the audience onstage to demonstrate their dancing; then each member of the band took a turn sharing their instrument from the pit. When the senior guitar player hopped down from the stage, he riffed on his guitar directly to a member of the audience, who ate it up for the musical sustenance that it was.
The drummer had help moving a piece of his set to the front of the stage, not missing a single beat while the drum traveled. He played frenetically while sweat dripped onto the skin of the drum. As his sticks bounced on the wet skin, his sweat flew off the drum as though he were drumming in the pouring rain. His roaring solo was not finished until both of his drumsticks were broken, marking the second time he broke them during this set. Tal National told the audience how, in Niger, they regularly play sets for five hours without stopping, which is understandle since five hours could easily fly by while watching the band perform. At the end of their set, everyone was hungry for more but thankful for the ecstatic song and dance just witnessed.
Tal National is a group of world-class musicians and performers who can share the heart of Tuareg music with an audience of any background and be fully understood. If Seattle is lucky enough to host them again, it will be a can’t-miss show!
Meklit and Diana Gameros bring a powerful night of music to Seattle and Wo Pop DJ Assistant Emily Slider was on the scene.