Vampire Weekend injecting African music into their silly art-rock is cute and all—but the way Malian blues-rockers Tinariwen can turn desert guitars into a crunching, electric, highly political chug-pop is downright stunning. The saga of Tinariwen frontman Ibrahim Ag Alhabib and guitarist Hassan Ag Touhami spans five decades and makes the most hardscrabble rocker’s life story look like Columbia dorm chatter: playing weddings as exiles in Libya in the ’70s, training under Ghadaffi’s military, writing musical molotovs for the Tuareg rebellion in the ’80s, and spreading their message like desert troubadours throughout the ’90s. More recently: 2004’s dry-and-desolate Amassakoul made them icons among the “world music crowd,” 2007’s funky hard-rocker Imidiwan made them hipster darlings, and 2009’s Water Is Life just means they have more awesome records than your favorite indie-rock band. They’re doing two nights—Thursday at Highline Ballroom, tonight at the Bell House—with Fool’s Gold, L.A.’s shit-hot Afro-pop/electro party machine. Thursday at 8, Highline Ballroom, 431 West 16th Street, 212-414-5994, $30; tonight at 7:30, the Bell House, 149 7th Street, Brooklyn, 212-643-6510, $25

Thu., Feb. 18, 8 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m., 2010

Archive Highlights