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Coachella 2009: Tinariwen, Calexico cross paths

April 18, 2009 |  9:31 pm


Whether by a master stroke of scheduling or happy accident, the juxtaposition of Afro-Arabic pop group Tinariwen in the Gobi Tent and Tucson-based spaghetti-western rock group Calexico on the Outdoor Theatre stage was one of those connective cultural moments that make giant festivals such as Coachella worth every wearying minute in the wilting desert heat.

With few outward similarities, the common ground between the Middle East and American West nonchalantly emerged.

Tinariwen explores extended melodic motifs mostly based on the Arabic scale in combination with muezzin vocal practice. Calexico makes music that evokes the American West, as filtered through the movies mythologizing that frontier.  But there's a strong Arabic element in Spanish folk and classical music thanks to the influence of the Moors who inhabited the region for centuries.

Calexico's incorporation of Moorish-inflected flamenco into its heterogeneous sound drew the line of Spanish contributions across the Pacific into Central America and then north into Mexico and the American Southwest.

Its riffing wasn't so far removed from the excursions Tinariwen was taking a couple hundred yards away.

The group's inspired pairing of mariachi horns with steel guitar in the instrumental "Minas de Cobre" makes you wonder why more people don't exploit this inviting combination of sounds.

And their cover of Love's late-'60s Spanish-flavored hit "Alone Again Or" spoke to the way rock can absorb anything and everything in its expansive path.

The melting pot is in high relief here in the desert.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Tinariwen by Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times