Due the the concurrent scheduling of the 2009 SEAALL Annual Meeting, I had to miss most of the Heineken TransAtlantic Festival. I would have liked to see Curumin the first night, but I was in Athens that whole weekend. So, instead of picking up a festival pass and going to all four nights, I only went to the fourth and final show, Tinariwen and CuCu Diamantes. The TransAtlantic Festival is organized as part of the Rhythm Foundation's concert series. While I think I heard something about the festival last year, I have to admit that I did not know about the Rhythm Foundation or the concert series they run every year. I will pay more attention in the future.

I arrived at the venue about a half-hour before the doors were scheduled to open. I heard music when I parked my car and realized that Tinariwen were soundchecking. I walked across the street to the venue, bought my ticket and stood in the queue listening to Tinariwen. They finished about 20 minutes later. I could tell the show was going to be great from the soundcheck.

They only kept us outside for a few minutes after the soundcheck finished. I went inside and grabbed a seat at the end of the middle aisle about five rows back. As I was alone and didn't want to give up my seat, I decided to forgo the usual pre-show beer and instead devoted my time to people watching. I heard at least six languages being spoken inside, as well as out in the queue (English, Spanish, French, German and a couple I didn't recognize). There were a lot of families and large groups of people who I believe were there to see Cuban singer Cucu Diamantes.

After a reasonable wait, someone came out to talk about the festival a little bit and introduce Tinariwen. Six people in desert garb walked on stage and began singing. The stage setup had three instrumentalists on the right side of the stage (guitar, bass, djembe) and three singers/guitarists on the left side of the stage. After searching a while, I had finally found a copy of Tinariwen's latest disc, Aman Iman: Water is Life, while I was in Athens, and only had the chance to listen a couple of times before the show. Prior to this, most of the Tinariwen music I had heard was played on Henry Rollins' show on KCRW (and before that, on his Indie 103 show, Harmony In My Head).

Led by Abdallah, they opened the set with the second song from Aman Iman, "Mano Dayak." At it's conclusion, he asked "Is ok?" and was greeted with applause. He said a few words of introduction in French and they continued on, with singer/guitarists Abdallah, Hassan and Intidao taking turns playing guitar and singing lead while the others backed him up. I found out later that the group's leader Ibrahim had gone into the desert before the Australia tour and missed both it and the US tour. The band has a long history and has many members passing through and even without its leader they were still stunning.

People filtered in during the first couple of songs. At the start of the show, most were sitting in the seats or standing in the back. A large portion of the crowd didn't seem to have any idea who Tinariwen were. As they played, the area in front of the stage slowly started to fill up as people left their seats to move up front to dance. By the end of the set, Tinariwen was playing to an enthusiastic crowd. I don't think I have ever seen such any band win over an audience like that before. It was truly amazing.

I only know of Cucu Diamantes what I read on the festival website. I stayed to check out her set. She's a New York-based Cuban singer from a group called Yerba Buena. She was playing in support of her first solo album, which was not quite out at the time of the show. When she came on stage, it was obvious that this was her crowd. She asked if the audience wanted her to speak in English or Spanish. This is Miami, like one really need ask. She went back and forth between the two for much of the show. The band played a more rock version of Latin jazz and while very good, it was all very professional and show biz, completely the opposite of Tinariwen. While enjoyable, my hunger won out and I went in search of food.

I started in the restaurant across the street. I was seated quickly, but after sitting with a menu for ten minutes, I left and found a small pizza place down the street. I ordered two slices and ate one since they were enormous. The second one went in the car and I went back to the bandshell to catch the end of Cucu Diamantes' set.

I will definitely be paying more attention to this festival next year. There were earlier shows I wanted to see, including one featuring Curumin. I am hoping that SEALL's later date this year means there will be no conflict. Tinariwen will also be returning to the US early next year to support their upcoming album (already out in Europe) Imidiwan: Companions. By all accounts, it's going to be even more amazing than the last one. Right now, the tour starts in mid-February in North Carolina and heads west. I plan to be at the opening night, even though it's a 14 hour drive. They're that good. Tinariwen's albums are excellent and I highly recommend giving all of them a listen. But live, it's a whole other thing. They are, without question, one of the most amazing groups I have ever seen and anyone who passes up a chance to see them is seriously missing out.