An encounter with the Tuareg band Tinariwen

ATinariwen radiates something strangely festive on the stage. Almost the entire Mali band has put on Tagelmust, a traditional veil turban, and has dressed in blue, yellow and pink robes. Hardly anyone in this country should be able to understand their lyrics, mostly sung on Tamaschek. However, Tinariwen’s distinctive blend of traditional elements and blues rock seems to mean something to everyone. Pieces like “Chaghaybou” or “Imidiwan Ahi Sigdim” are recognized after just a few tones and cheered loudly. Over the years the band has earned a loyal, international fan base.

Translated, Tinariwen means “deserts” – spaces that are of central importance for the band: as concrete, physical places in which their members grew up, live and sometimes also record their music. At the same time, deserts symbolize the cultural identity of the musicians as members of the Tuareg. Including the conflicts and problems that this partly still nomadic ethnic group faces in the region between Mali, Algeria, Niger, Libya and Burkina Faso. Tinariwen has always placed the themes of home, political resistance and cultural self-empowerment in the foreground of her work.

Cassette tapes circulated in the region

Like many other Tuaregs, the founding members of Tinariwen in the mid-1970s were forced to leave Mali due to the political and economic situation. In Algeria, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Hassan Ag Touhami and Inteyeden Ag Ableline played at weddings, baptisms and other celebrations in the early 1980s. They later joined the Tuareg rebels and received training on weapons in military training camps in Libya. According to tradition, they started composing political songs about exile there. The music, which at that time was played exclusively with acoustic guitars, was aimed primarily at the Tuareg community. Cassette tapes circulated throughout the region.

After the peace agreements with Mali and Niger, Tinariwen withdrew from the armed struggle. “Since then we have devoted ourselves exclusively to music,” says Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, guitarist and lead singer, who joined the band later. Tinariwen have now released nine albums and won the Grammy in 2012 in the “World Music” category. Numerous style-defining musicians from the West – Damon Albarn from Blur and the Gorillaz, for example, or Thom Yorke from Radiohead – are among her fans.

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