Formed in the southern Sahara, Grammy winning ensemble Tinariwen has been playing their unique brand of desert blues for over 30 years. The group of former Touareg rebels turned electric guitar wielding musicians is a sensational live act, gritty and hypnotic.
The group was founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Hassan Ag Touhami and Inteyeden Ag Ableline in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria, at the end of the 1970s. It was a period of great suffering in the desert, due to the catastrophic droughts of the early 1970s, which had decimated the animal herds and almost destroyed the Touareg’s ancient nomadic way of life. Tinariwen began to write songs describing the pain of exile, the longing for lost homes and families, the struggle for political and cultural freedom, and the rigors of every day life in the desert.
It wasn’t long before the band gained global recognition and praise for their ability to candidly mix the bitter sound of spiky guitars with lyrical poetry celebrating the sacred union between a people and their environment, all the while reflecting on painful collective circumstances. Their music became the soundtrack for a whole generation of exiled Touareg youth, living a hand-to-mouth existence in exile in Algeria and Libya. It was not only the subject matter, but the sound that was radically different. Ibrahim transposed the traditional melodies of the Touareg on the electric guitar, mixing them with blues, rock, pop, berber and arabic influences. Tinariwen created a modern desert rock sound, whose harsh simplicity was well suited to the realities of their situation.
Lured into rebel training camps in Libya by Colonel Gadaffi in the early 1980s, Tinariwen became the official mouthpiece of the Touareg rebellion, and their songs carried the message of awareness and resistance to the far corners of the desert. In 1990 all the founding members of the group took part in the Touareg rebellions in northern Mali and Niger. After the end of the rebellion, Tinariwen emerged as a desert legend. They joined up with the French group Lo’Jo to organize the first Festival in the Desert in 2001, and they have not looked back since.
Tinariwen are the ambassadors of one of the oldest and proudest people on earth. They play their music to teach us about the beauty of their desert home, the strength and dignity of the nomad and his way of life, and the problems of poverty, oppression and lack of development which continue to hamper their progress.
The group has headlined festivals including Glastonbury and Coachella and been praised by the likes of Elvis Costello, Thom Yorke, and Carlos Santana, with whom they have shared the stage. While Tinariwen’s line-up of members has changed over the years, the band’s spirit and ability to communicate real-world hardships and the importance of equality has never faltered.
In August 2011, Tinariwen released their fifth studio album, Tassili, which won the 2012 Grammy Award for “Best World Music Album.” Today, Tinariwen continues to spread their message and reach out to people all around the world on a global tour.
What Other People Have Been Saying...
“Tinariwen’s nomadic guitar mantras encompass the spiritual hypnotism of Tibetan chants, the bare grittiness of Malian blues, and the rebel soul of reggae… entirely transfixing.” -Austin Chronicle
“Armed with perhaps the most quintessentially border-defying success story of our time, Tinariwen are the poster band for that old saying about music being the universal language.” –Consequence of Sound
“Live, the Tamashek lyrics may impede sing-a-longs, but the African group travels in universal themes that transcend language barriers, rooted in race, class and geography. As folk music goes, it’s unrivaled.” – Areif Sless-Kitain – Time Out Chicago