Red Hot Chili Peppers Guitarist Joins Tinariwen for New LP

Josh Klinghoffer recalls retreating to the desert with the Malian guitar masters

Josh Klinghoffer
Josh Klinghoffer
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Josh Klinghoffer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' shaggy-haired guitar savant, joins acclaimed Malian desert-rockers Tinariwen for two songs on their upcoming sixth album, Emmaar, due February 11th.

"I was a little self-conscious because I don't necessarily like it when a white musician from L.A. steps on this beautiful, organic African thing," says Klinghoffer. "If I heard that was happening, I would probably roll my eyes [laughs]. But being that it was me, I seized the moment and I played whatever I felt at the time, and it was really natural. It sounds like Tinariwen. It doesn't sound like some guy wanking all over their music."

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The two shimmering tracks, opener "Toumast Tincha" and "Timadrit in Sahara," signal the Grammy-winning band's electric return to fiery desert blues after 2011's more subdued, acoustic-heavy Tassili. A bloody battle over control of northern Mali has been waging between Tuareg rebels, various Islamic groups and the Malian government, leaving a climate of political unrest, so the band relocated to a house in the deserts of California's Joshua Tree. At times they were joined by Saul Williams, Zwan guitarist Matt Sweeney, Nashville session fiddler Fats Kaplan and Klinghoffer, who filled the Chili Peppers' 10th album, I'm With You, with licks inspired by the music of Ethiopia and Nigeria.

"We would just be sitting around with guitars and start a song," says Klinghoffer of the sessions. "I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know the song, I didn't know if they knew the song. They would just kind of nod their head and I'd play along . . . There was one song where Eyadou [Ag Leche, bassist] wanted me to do some spacey, guitar-y kinda stuff that he saw me do live with the Chili Peppers. But I didn't bring any guitar effects, so I kind of just tried to work with what I had – which was nothing, which was just a guitar.

"Some of us never even said a word to each other, we just kind of nodded politely and smiled. I just wish to God that I had more of a way to communicate with Ibrahim [Ag Alhabib, lead guitarist] and Abdallah [Ag Alhousseyni, acoustic guitarist], because they don't speak English much and I don't speak any French," he says. "I wish I could have communicated more but, without sounding like a hippie twat, we played guitars and we smiled and that was enough. I think something was communicated."

Klinghoffer, of course, is moving from the sands to the Meadowlands, on February 2nd, since Bruno Mars has invited the Chili Peppers play the Super Bowl halftime show. Is he nervous about strumming in front of the biggest audience in America? 

"I suppose the only thing there is to be nervous [about] is getting trampled by them moving the stage in 30 seconds," he says. "But I think as long as I stand in the right spot, I'll be fine. I'm nervous for the players. Like if Peyton Manning makes it, I'm nervous for him. I want him to win."