Tinariwen’s Rebel Music

Tinariwen’s Rebel Music
The Sahara desert home of Touareg blues rock shamen Tinariwen breeds a special kind of high lonesome sound. Finding a proper recording environment, however, is a challenge. The band travelled 1,200 miles to reach the studio in Bamako, Mali, but principal member Abdallah describes the experience as relatively luxurious. "We had ten days in the studio; that allowed us time to make changes,” he says in French. "We had fewer means and less experience before, but now we’ve learned so much more.” The session, produced by Robert Plant/Jah Wobble sideman Justin Adams, is evidence that these rebels turned musicians are one of the most effortlessly rocking bands in the world. Aman Iman is the head-noddingest album of the year, and will surely find a wide audience. Tinariwen seems to embody the convergence of all offshoots of Afro-American music with their ancient sources, yet this album brings out a heretofore-unexplored super-catchy rock sensibility.

Tinariwen, which means "empty spaces” in Tamashek, have only played the role of a touring band for the last few years of their 25-year history. Originally encouraged to pursue their musical talent to entertain and educate Touareg rebels trained in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan training camps, they fought in intermittent rebellions against the government of Mali — in whose northern regions many of the Touaregs lived — before the warring factions finally made peace in 1996. They laid down their guns for good and dedicated themselves to their music and the preservation and promotion of Touareg culture ever since. Their early recordings circulated on cassette, and informal sessions composed their first international release, the Radio Tisdas Sessions in 2000, which astonished listeners with Hendrixian guitars over hypnotic, undulating rhythms. Amassakoul, from 2004, prompted an extensive world tour. Despite the organisational rigour that the album/tour template demands of artists, Tinariwen maintains its collective structure, where members drift in and out, and music is drawn from tradition or spontaneously composed.

With Plant and Thom Yorke lavishing praise on the band, there is an expectation of great things to come. And yet Abdullah remains nonchalant and utterly grounded in the familiar: their harsh living conditions, shared cultural experiences and constant collective music making. "I hope for a lot of things but… voila. I hope that a lot of people hear it and appreciate it and that we can be ambassadors for the Touareg people.”