A band of nomads, playing soulful, bluesy rock music through the dunes of the Sahara desert. Sounds like a movie premise...maybe even a tall tale from times past. But this is not fiction. This is Tinariwen.
But their story is certainly dramatic...
Tinariwen was founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who grew up in Mali in the Tuareg culture - a nomadic people of the Saharan region of North Africa. At age 4 he witnessed the execution of his father (a Tuareg rebel) during a 1963 uprising in Mali. He then lived in refugee camps and later resided with other Tuareg exiles in Libya and Algeria. Ag Alhabib built his own guitar out of a tin can, a stick and bicycle brake wire and started to play old Tuareg songs.
In the late 1970s Ag Alhabib joined with other musicians in the Tuareg rebel community, and people began to call them "Kel Tinariwen", which in the Tamashek language translates as "The People of the Deserts" or "The Desert Boys." (Wikipedia.com) They were influenced by Moroccan protest music, Algerian pop, Western rock, and reggae. Over the next ten years they recorded homemade cassettes and played gigs for far-flung Tuareg communities throughout the Sahara region, gaining word-of-mouth popularity among the Tuareg people.
In the late 90s, Tinariwen began to garner international attention, and since 2001 they have played over 700 concerts in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia. Their 2004 CD Amassakoul ("The Traveller") and its 2007 follow-up Aman Iman ("Water Is Life") 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, and Henry Rollins. In 2005 Tinariwen received a BBC Award for World Music, and in 2008 they received Germany’s prestigious Praetorius Music Prize.
What an inspirational tale! From an orphaned nomadic refugee to celebrated world-traveling musician! Over the span of 30 years! That is true devotion to one's craft...
Here's a video they recently shot with Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio for their song Tenere Taqqim Tossam. It captures the life, look, sound and vibe of their roots in the Sahara with a profound beauty.