Founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Tinariwen can trace their origins back to the mid and late 1970s when Alhabib, who had been inspired to learn the guitar from an old Western film, in which a cowboy played a guitar, joined other Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria, who were exploring the radical chaabi protest music of Moroccan groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala; Algerian pop rai; and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley.
While in Tamanrasset, Algeria, Ag Alhabib started a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil, and they began playing the traditional sounds of the Taureg people at weddings and parties across Algeria and Libya. Interestingly, when they started, the band had no official name but people began calling them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language translates roughly as “The People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys.”
In 1980, Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi released a decree inviting all young Tuareg men, who were living illegally in Libya to receive full military training, as part of his dream of forming a Saharan regiment, comprised of the best young Tuareg fighters to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger, and elsewhere across Northern Africa. Al Alhabib and his bandmates answered the call and received military training. They answered a similar call in 1985, by leaders of the Libyan Tuareg movement and wound up meeting fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (aka “Japonais”), Sweiloum Ag Alhousseyni, Abouhadid Ag Alhousseyni, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni — all who had sang and played guitar. The musicians joined together in a collective — now known across the world as Tinariwen — in order to write songs about the issues facing their people, built a makeshift stood and vowed to record music for free for anyone who supplied a blank cassette tape. And naturally, as a result their homemade cassette tape series were highly sought after, and were traded throughout Saharan Africa. (It’s also incredibly punk — perhaps more punk, than anything most Western artists could ever come up with.)
In 1989. the members of the collective had left Libya and relocated to Ag Alhabib’s birthplace of Tessalit, Mali; however, by the next year Mail’s Tuareg population revolted against the Malian government, with some members of the collective participating as rebel fighters. After a peace agreement known as the Tamanrasset Accords were reached in early 1991, the members of Tinariwen left the military and devoted themselves to music full-time — and by 1992, some of the members of the collective were to Abidjan, Ivory Coast to record a cassette at JBZ Studios, and they occasionally played gigs for far-flung Tuareg communities throughout Saharan Africa, which helped the band gain word-of-mouth popularity among their people.
Tinariwen started to receive international attention after they had began collaborating with the renowned French world music ensemble Lo’Jo — with the result being the highly acclaimed 2001 Festival au Desert in Essakane, Mali. Greater attention came to the band when the play their first UK performance at that country’s largest, free African festival, Africa Oye. And the year was topped by the release of their full-length debut, The Radio Tisdas Sessions, their first recording to be released outside of their native Northern Africa. Coincidentally, this has gone on as the collective has gone through some lineup changes, incorporating a younger generation of Tuareg musicians, musicians who didn’t live during some of the military conflicts of the older generation, including bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, percussionist Said Ag Ayad, guitarist Elaga Ag Hamid, guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida, and vocalists Wonou Walet Sidati and the Walet Oumar sisters.
As the collective has started to see greater international attention, they’ve toured regularly across the European Union, North America, Japan and Australia, often playing at some of the world’s biggest and highly renowend music festivals including Glastonbury, Coachella, Roskilde, Les Vieilles Charrues, WOMAD, FMM Sines and Printemps de Bourges. And they’ve won over an incredible list of celebrity fans and champions including Carlos Santana, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, U2‘s Bono and The Edge, Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke, Coldplay‘s Chris Martin, Henry Rollins, Brian Eno, and TV on the Radio, among others. And it shouldn’t be surprising because of their hauntingly gorgeous music rooted in the poetry and traditions of the tough, rebellious people of Northern Africa — and in some way, the material captures the vast expanse of the desert as their sound seems to arch heavenward . . .
At the end of last year, the members of Tinariwen played a show in Paris and invited the legendary grand dame of Tamashek culture, Lalla Badi, one of Tuareg culture’s beloved master of the tinde, which is both a percussive instrument covered by taut goatskin, played by women and a poetic repertoire sung at ceremonies and special and intimate occasions. Not only is she considered the paradigm of Tuareg femininity, she has also long been an outspoken advocate for Tuareg culture and causes, as well as being a mentor to the members of Tinariwen in their early incarnation. The end result was a live recording of their Paris show, Live in Paris slated for a November 20 release through Anti- Records.
The first single off the live album “Tinde Final Tinariwen” is a hauntingly gorgeous track that begins with droning guitar chords, propulsive percussion and a collection of male vocals crying and chanting before Badi’s regal vocals joining in on a composition that marries ancient traditions with contemporary sound. Indeed, there’s a forcefulness to the composition but it arches heavenward with lilting, trance inducing beauty that’s awe-inspiring.