I’ve been listening to Tinariwen for years, but digitally, so I thought it about time to pick up a an LP, and it happened to be in the shop at the same time as me, which was handy.
For anybody who doesn’t know them, their story is on worth hearing:
Tinariwen was founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who at age four witnessed the execution of his father (a Tuareg rebel) during a 1963 uprising in Mali. As a child he saw a western film (The Fastest Guitar Alive) in which a cowboy (played by Roy Orbison) played a guitar with a gun. Ag Alhabib built his own guitar out of a tin can, a stick and bicycle brake wire. He started to play old Tuareg and modern Arabic pop tunes. Ag Alhabib first lived in Algeria in refugee camps near Bordj Badji Mokhtar and in the deserts around the southern city of Tamanrasset, where he received a guitar from a local Arab man. Later, he resided with other Tuareg exiles in Libya and Algeria.
In the late 1970s, Ag Alhabib joined with other musicians in the Tuareg rebel community, exploring the radical chaabi protest music of Moroccan groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala; Algerian pop rai; and western rock and pop artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley. Ag Alhabib formed a group with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil in Tamanrasset, Algeria to play at parties and weddings. Ag Alhabib acquired his first real acoustic guitar in 1979. While the group had no official name, people began to call them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language translates as “The People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys.”
In 1980, Libyan ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi put out a decree inviting all young Tuareg men who were living illegally in Libya to receive full military training. Gaddafi dreamed of forming a Saharan regiment, made up of the best young Tuareg fighters, to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger, and elsewhere. Ag Alhabib and his bandmates answered the call and received nine months of training. They answered a similar call in 1985, this time by leaders of the Tuareg rebel movement in Libya, and met fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (aka “Japonais”), Sweiloum, Abouhadid, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni. All sang and played guitar in various permutations. The musicians joined together in a collective (now known as Tinariwen) in order to create songs about the issues facing the Tuareg people, built a makeshift studio, and vowed to record music for free for anyone who supplied a blank cassette tape. The resulting homemade cassettes were traded widely throughout the Sahara region.
In 1989, the collective left Libya and moved to Ag Alhabib’s home country of Mali, where he returned to his home village of Tessalit for the first time in 26 years. In 1990 the Tuareg people of Mali revolted against the government, with some members of Tinariwen participating as rebel fighters. After a peace agreement known as the Tamanrasset Accords was reached in January 1991, the musicians left the military and devoted themselves to music full-time. In 1992 some of the members of Tinariwen went to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire to record a cassette at JBZ studios. They played occasional gigs for far-flung Tuareg communities throughout the Sahara region, gaining word-of-mouth popularity among the Tuareg people.
With their Saharan homeland now a conflict zone threatened by Salafist insurgents, they recorded this seventh album partly in California’s Joshua Tree national park and partly camped at an oasis in southern Morocco.
In 1998, Tinariwen came to the attention of the French world music ensemble Lo’Jo and their manager Philippe Brix. That group traveled to a music festival in Bamako and met two members of the Tinariwen collective. In 1999 some members of Tinariwen traveled to France and performed with Lo’Jo under the name Azawad. The two groups organized the January 2001 Festival au Désert in Essakane, Mali with Tinariwen as the headliners, and in close cooperation with the Belgian Sfinks Festival. The festival brought much outside attention to Tinariwen. By the end of 2001, Tinariwen had performed at WOMAD and Roskilde. Tinariwen gained more attention overseas in 2004, with their first UK performance at the largest free African music festival in the country, Africa Oye. Their debut CD, The Radio Tisdas Sessions, was recorded by Justin Adams and Jean-Paul Romann at the radio station of the same name (the only Tamashek-speaking station in Kidal, Mali) and released in 2001. It was Tinariwen’s first recording to be released outside of northern Africa.
Since 2001 Tinariwen have toured regularly in Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia; often appearing at large world music/alternative festivals like Glastonbury, Coachella, Roskilde, Les Vieilles Charrues, WOMAD, FMM Sines, and Printemps de Bourges. Their 2004 album Amassakoul (“The Traveller” in Tamashek) and its 2007 follow-up Aman Iman (“Water Is Life” in Tamashek) were released worldwide and gained the notice of celebrity fans including Carlos Santana, Robert Plant, Bono and the Edge of U2, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Henry Rollins, Brian Eno, and TV On The Radio. In 2005 Tinariwen received a BBC Award for World Music, and in 2008 they received Germany’s prestigious Praetorius Music Prize.
Also since 2001, the Tinariwen collective has added several younger Tuareg musicians who did not live through the military conflicts experienced by the older members but have contributed to the collective’s multi-generational evolution. New members include 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. The band’s 2009 album Imidiwan (Tamashek for “Companions”) was recorded in a mobile studio by Jean-Paul Romann in the village of Tessalit, Mali.
Now we have Elwan:
Elwan (Elephants), is a powerful album which confronts their situation head-on, the songs reflecting on the values of ancestry, unity and fellowship, while hypnotic guitar grooves cycle and additional percussion adds intricacy to the sound.
“The Tenere has become an upland of thorns where elephants fight each other, crushing tender grass underfoot,” sings Ibrahim Ag Alhabib on “Tenere Taqqal”, lamenting their homeland’s use as battleground for struggles between elephantine power blocs beyond their control; while the abandonment of ancestral ways draws equal criticism on his own people in “Imidiwan N-Akall-In”: “All that’s left is a groaning land full of old people and children / Oh my brothers! You’re on the wrong path”. – The Idependant
I don’t understand the words of the songs, but the sound, the melancholy, the joy, convey all I need to know, it is felt rather than understood, at least by me. I did understand some on the track Nànnuflày, which has vocals by Mark Lanegan that kick in about half way through, in English.Other guest appearances are from Kurt Vile, Matt Sweeney, and Alain Johannes.
A1 Tiwàyyen (Electric Guitar – Kurt Vile, Matt Sweeney)
A3 Nizzagh Ijbal
B2 Ténéré Tàqqàl
B3 Imidiwàn N-àkall-In
B4 Talyat (Cigarbox Guitar – Alain Johannes, Electric Guitar – Matt Sweeney)
C2 Arhegh Ad Annàgh
C3 Nànnuflày (Electric Guitar – Kurt Vile, Vocals – Mark Lanegan)
C4 Intro Flute Fog Edaghan
C5 Fog Edaghàn
You have probably noticed that this double vinyl only has three sides, I didn’t, or almost didn’t, the fourth side is etched.
It is a wonderful album, not for everybody I’m sure, but anyone who has any time for world music of any kind should be able to make time for this.