Tinariwen shares a new unreleased track today called Ham Tinahghin Ane Yallah. It was recorded during the original Radio Tisdas Sessions and performed by Kedou Ag Ossad, one of the founders of Tinariwen. The original 8 track ADAT tapes were found, restored, and then mixed and mastered for the new reissues of The Radio Tisdas Sessions & Amassakoul. Both albums have been remastered & repackaged with a bonus unreleased track, out March 25th on Wedge.
There is a depth of feeling in Tinariwen’s music that is universal. But to really understand the message of their songs, you need to understand where they’re from. Tinariwen are Tuaregs, children of a nomadic Berber tribe who have roamed the Saharan desert for thousands of years.
Already put to the test by soil desertification and Western colonisation, the Tuareg people particularly suffered from the 1960s onwards after decolonisation, when their ancestral lands were partitioned into separate countries – Mali, Algeria, Libya, Niger, Burkina Faso. Facing oppression from the central states – especially in Mali and Niger – and the lack of resources, some have chosen to rebel and fight for a better recognition of their rights and culture. In northern Mali, many young people fled to Algeria or Lybia in search for work. Some artists revealed themselves among these ishumar (“unemployed”), including future members of Tinariwen. The music they started making around campfires mixed traditional West African music with electrified rock’n’roll and speaks about nostalgia and exile: a sound that critics have called “desert blues”.
Today, Tinariwen are a multi-generational band, Grammy-winning and multiple nominee, who count among their fans some of the biggest names in Western music. But you can trace their journey back to the late 1970s, where the group’s founding father Ibrahim Ag Alhabib – the son of a Tuareg rebel who had witnessed his father’s execution at the hands of the Malian government – built his own guitar using an oil can, a stick and a bicycle brake wire and taught himself to play. Drifting through towns and refugee camps in search of work, he met fellow Tuareg musicians, and around campfires they would write songs which they would play at parties or social gatherings. People called them Kel Tinariwen, which translates from their native Tamashek to “People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys”.
Ultimately, though, it is through music, not conflict, that Tinariwen chose to bring their message to the world. Following a decade in which their music was exchanged by hand on dubbed cassettes, in 2001 came their first commercially released album –The Radio Tisdas Sessions – with this reissue marking its 20th anniversary. The album was produced by Justin Adams and recorded in Kidal at the local Tamashek-language radio station, which wasn’t the easiest job, as the studio was powered by the public lighting network, and the electricity kept cutting out – although the mixing, at Justin Adams’ place in Bath, went somewhat smoother. The album features songs from Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Kedou Ag Ossad, Foy Foy and Mohamed Ag Itlal aka ‘Japonais’, who passed away on February 14th 2021. Tinariwen’s fame was spreading – and following the album’s release they embarked on their first international tour.
Amassakoul, released in 2004 and recorded at Studio Bogolan in Bamako, was made by a band in which four of the six players were newcomers and represented a shift to a more produced, intricate sound. It preserved the loose, camelback rhythms, call-and-response vocals, lively guitars, and handclaps of Tinariwen’s unique sound but added a vocal drone to Assoul and influences from Jamaican toasting on Tamashek rap track Arawan, and on Oualahila Ar Tesninam, the group’s hardest rock track yet. The album’s name tellingly translates from Tamashek to “The Traveler.” Amassakoul features songs from Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, and Touhami Ag Alhassane.
Tinariwen have taken their music to major global festivals like Coachella, Glastonbury, WOMAD, Denmark’s Roskilde and Japan’s Fuji Rock; performed live on The Colbert Report and Later With Jools Holland; and played at the FIFA World Cup Kick-off Concert in South Africa in 2010. In the process, they have picked up some devotees – from Thom Yorke and Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers to Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, who in 2003 travelled to Festival au Désert in Mali to witness Tinariwen playing on home turf. “I felt this was the music I’d been looking for all my life,” he said.