When Tuareg band Tinariwen played the Aladdin Theater in 2012, the performance highlighted the particularly complex nature of their U.S. tour. Singing in Tamashek and addressing the audience in French with a “Ca va?” between songs, the band seemed to bridge all language barriers with its colorful and mesmerizing songs, agile musicianship, and by drawing listeners forward to dance along with them. Playing an extended 2-hour set, the band covered both old and new songs (from their 2011 release Tassili — recorded with TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe — which won a Grammy Award in 2012).
At the same time, in their homeland, a Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali had fractured that country, resulting in a military coup, declaration of a new Tuareg state in the northern Sahara, and harsh Islamic law in Timbuktu. The founder of Tinariwen, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib did not travel with the band on tour, and as bassist Eyadou Ag Leche told us, for the traveling band much of their daily attention has been on the situation at home.
While many of the group’s lyrics are calls for rebellion and Tuareg independence, musically they convey a palpable sense of yearning, and they ride on easy but slightly unpredictable rhythmic patterns, at the same time beautiful and complicated.
Recorded by Steven Kray
Video production: Nate Sjol, with Anthony Del Calzo
Translations: Beth Epstein-Hounza and Rosine Evans
Special Thanks to Chris Kirkley
Executive Producer: David Christensen