Over this site’s almost seven year history, I’ve written about, advocated and championed an increasingly diverse array of music and artists — and in some way not only does it reflect my idiosyncratic and eclectic tastes; but in some way, the site has quietly begun to reflect my childhood growing up in one of the most diverse places in the most diverse city and most diverse borough in the entire world. Now, over the last few years, I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally renowned collective Tinariwen. The act can trace its origins to back to the late 1970s when founding member, guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps living in Libya and Algeria. These Tuareg rebels had been influenced by 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, and started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.
After relocating to Tamanrasset, Algeria, Ag Alhabib started a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil that played traditional Taureg music at weddings, parties and other occasions across both Algeria and Libya — but interestingly enough, when the band started, they didn’t have a name; however, locals across the region had begun calling them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language (the tongue of the Taureg people) translates roughly as “The People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys.”
In 1980, the infamous 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 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. Of course, whether or not the founding members of the band truly believed in Gaddafi’s military ambitions would be difficult to say — but on a practical level, a steady paycheck to support yourself and your family back home certainly is an enticement. Five years later, Ag Alhabib, Ag Touhami and the Ag Ablil brothers answered a similar call by leaders of the Libyan Tuareg movement, who desired an autonomous homeland for their people, and wound up meeting fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (a.k.a “Japonais”), Sweiloum Ag Alhousseyni, Abouhadid Ag Alhousseyni, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni — all who had sang and played guitar. At this point, the lineup of Tinariwen was completed and the members of the collective began writing songs that focused on the issues and concerns of their people. They then built a makeshift studio in which they recorded their earliest material — and then vowed to distribute their music for free to anyone across the region, who supplied them with a blank cassette tape. And unsurprising their cassettes became highly-sought after and were traded throughout Saharan Africa.
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 band went to Abidjan, Ivory Coast to record a cassette at JBZ Studios, which they followed up with extensive gigs for their fellow Tuaregs across Saharan Africa — and it also helped further establish the band’s reputation by word-of-mouth.
After collaborating with renowned French world music ensemble Lo’Jo, the members of Tinariwen started to receive greater international attention outside of Saharan Africa, including their first British live set at Africa Oye, one of the UK’s largest festivals featuring music and artists from Africa and across the African Diaspora. Building on the increasing buzz and a growing international profile, the band’s recorded and released The Radio Tisdas Sessions, their first album released to outside of Northern Africa. And although the collective has gone through a number of lineup changes, frequently incorporating a younger generation of Tuareg musicians, many of whom weren’t even born during the military and civil conflicts that informed the work of the band’s older generation.
As the collective 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 renowned music festivals including Glastonbury, Coachella, Roskilde, Les Vieilles Charrues, WOMAD, FMM Sines Thomand Printemps de Bourges. And although they employ Western instrumentation, their sound manages to evoke both the surreal and brutally harsh beauty of the Saharan Desert, the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, rebellious, proud people whose old-fashioned way of life is disappearing thanks to encroaching Westernization and technology, along with a bloody and contentious war across the region that has splintered and devastated the region — in particular Mali and Libya. The band’s forthcoming full-length effort Elwan (which translates into English as “The Elephants”) is slated for a February 10, 2017 release, and from the two album singles I’ve written about “Tenere Taqqal” and “Sastanàqqàm,” the album thematically will focus on the disappearing traditions of the Tuareg people and the band’s responsibility to preserve and further as many of those traditions as possible — and of the band being forced into a reluctant and begrudging exile from their beloved homeland.
Over the past few days, as 2016 was coming to a close, I had been looking a bit back at the past when I stumbled across this live footage of Tinariwen performing at the Bataclan in Paris, back in November.
The band will be embarking on a North American tour, which will include two NYC area dates at Brooklyn Bowl. Check out the tour dates below.
30 MARCH 2017 – SOLANA BEACH, CA : BELLY UP TAVERN
31 MARCH 2017 – LOS ANGELES, CA : THE FONDA THEATRE
01 APRIL 2017 – BERKELEY, CA : THE UC THEATRE
02 APRIL 2017 – PORTLAND, OR : REVOLUTION HALL
04 APRIL 2017 – SEATTLE, WA : BENAROYA HALL
05 APRIL 2017 – VANCOUVER, BC : CHAN CENTRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
7 APRIL 2017 – SALT LAKE CITY, UT : THE STATE ROOM
08 APRIL 2017 – DENVER, CO: SWALLOW HILL MUSIC ASSOCIATION
10 APRIL 2017 – MINNEAPOLIS, MN : CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER
11 APRIL 2017 – CHICAGO, IL : OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC
12 APRIL 2017 – TORONTO, ONT : MASSEY HALL
13 APRIL 2017 – MONTREAL, QC : PLACE DES ARTS
14 APRIL 2017 – BOSTON, MA : ROYALE
15 APRIL 2017 – BROOKLYN, NY : BROOKLYN BOWL
16 APRIL 2017 – BROOKLYN, NY : BROOKLYN BOWL
18 APRIL 2017 – PHILADELPHIA, PA : UNION TRANSFER
19 APRIL 2017 – WASHINGTON, DC : BARNS AT WOLF TRAP
21 APRIL 2017 – PITTSBURGH, PA : CARNEGIE OF HOMESTEAD HALL