Eclectica 1: Tinariwen And The Saharan Blues

Bored? Looking for something off the beaten path of popular guitar music? Then you're at the right place. Today's topic: Tinariwen's Blues-Rock in the Desert

Ultimate Guitar

Popular music is rooted in the despair of the displaced. Any American Bluesman could tell you that. The desperation and sadness of being torn from one's home is the very foundation upon which American Music is built. Gospel, R&B, and of course the Blues (and therefore Rock itself) are all rooted in the suffering of African Americans. Uprooted from their homes only a few generations before, and then freed only decades before into a world of poverty and racism, the first modern blues players effectively synthesized the potent combination of untapped creative energy, the anger of the repressed, and of course the deep sadness of the downtrodden.

Mali's Tinariwen know a thing or two about sadness. And they most certainly know more than a few things about the blues. If Metalocalypse has taught us anything, its that the blues can't be taught. There's no way to teach misery. You have to learn it first hand. The members of Tinariwen have lived misery. All of the members of the band are Tuaregs, members of an African nomad tribe that have wandered the Sahel, the area just south of the Saharan desert, since time immemorial. But in a world of finite borders, a nomadic tribe is an outdated term. The governments of Libya and Mali have attempted to force the Tuareg to adopt a more stable lifestyle, and each time the results have been open rebellion. The members of Tinariwen were born into one such rebellion, and spent the early years of their life battling for their freedom.

While living in exile in Libya Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, founder of Tinariwen who had witnessed his own father's execution when he was only four, was first introduced to the radical chaabi protest music of Egypt. Alhabib wanted a Tuareg version that could illustrate their struggle, and integrated it with traditional West African guitar styles. But then he and his fellow rebels heard it, the music of the West. Bob Marley, Elvis Presley, Carlos Santana, Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, and especially Jimi Hendrix had huge impacts on the music being made by the young rebels, who began incorporating more and more rock into their fire side jam sessions. The resulting music is a fascinating mix of African rhythm and Western guitar, with often five or six guitars getting in on one jam, aided by hand drums and group singing. Its the sound of dust storms and sand dunes, but the similarities between it and the American Blues(as well a little bit of American Funk) are unmistakable.

Tinariwen was pretty much a functioning unit by this point, but the ruler of Libya, the infamous Colonel Moammar Ghadaffi, had long desired a regiment of the fierce Tuaregs (renowned for their combat skills) for his wars against his neighbors. The members of Tinariwen were recruited into the Libyan Army and spent the next few years at war in the service of the Colonel, only to leave and take up arms against their former comrades as the Tuareg leaders in Libya declared a new Rebellion. After fighting for some time the central members of the band left for Mali. And naturally once they got to Mali the Malian Tuareg's declared war on the Malian government, and the band members were swept up again. Only when peace was declared in the early nineties that Tinariwen's members left the military and devoted themselves fully to music.

Since then they have received international acclaim for their unique style and have played in festivals ranging from Britain's Glastonbury to headlining Music of Mali in their home country. The influence is now swinging the other way, as American groups such as Here We Go Magic and Dirty Projectors integrate the unique playing style into their own sound, creating a whole new crossbreed of sound.

Suggested Album: Tinariwen - Aman Iman: Water is Life(2006) Suggested Song: Cler Achel

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