Tinariwen brings message of peace from African desert
April 20, 2017 12:00 AM
North African band Tinariwen.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Talk about desert trips …
In the early ‘00s, Tinariwen emerged from the Saharan mountain region of northern Mali as a surprise indie sensation with a taut, intense sound blending traditional Tuareg polyrhythms with guitar-driven western rock.
Where: Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, Munhall.
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Tickets: $24/$45; ticketfly.com.
The group, which plays the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall Friday, was founded in 1979 by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who as a child witnessed the death of his Tuareg rebel father during a 1963 conflict between the nomadic Tuareg people and the newly independent state of Mali.
A few years later, inspired by Roy Orbison in the 1967 western “The Fastest Guitar Alive,” he built his own guitar with a tin can, a stick and bicycle wire. It would take another decade before he got his first real acoustic guitar and founded a collective of poets and musicians among other Tuareg rebels inspired by everything from Moroccan protest music to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. They acquired the name Tinariwen, translating to “The Desert Boys.”
Their recording efforts began with homemade cassettes of songs in their native Tamashek confronting the hardships of the displaced Tuareg people, who have sought freedom to travel northern Africa without borders. By the late ‘90s, Tinariwen became musical road warriors and, in 2001, became the first Saharan group to play Europe, performing at the WOMAD and Roskilde festivals while also releasing their first international album, “The Radio Tisdas Sessions.” With stops at Glastonbury and Coachella and the release of 2004’s “Amassakoul” (“The Traveller”) and 2007’s “Aman Iman” (“Water Is Life”), the band won fans among Carlos Santana, Robert Plant, Bono and Brian Eno.
In 2010, Tinariwen toured the U.S. and the next year issued a fifth album, “Tassili,” that featured guest spots by Nels Cline, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and TV on the Radio, earning the Grammy for Best World Music Album.
Tinariwen was born amid conflict and has never escaped it. At various points, Tinariwen members have been recruited as soldiers, both for Gaddafi’s Libyan government and as Tuareg rebels. In August 2012, Tinariwen was targeted by the militant Islamist group Ansar Dine, which demanded the removal of “Satan’s music” in northern Mali, and in January 2013 Abdallah Ag Lamida was abducted by the group and held for a few weeks.
The group’s 2014 album, “Emmaar” (“the heat on the breeze”), recorded in and around Joshua Tree National Park, dealt with the exile from its home country, and what follows is “Elwan” (“Elephants”), recorded at Joshua Tree and in southern Morocco.
Addressing the album’s message, guitarist Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, said via an email translator, “Since our beginning we are giving some messages [to] our population to keep a way to understand the situation and to help to keep our spirit open for a peace in the world!” (Virtually every thought ends with an exclamation point.)
“Elwan” features contributions from Kurt Vile, Matt Sweeney, Alain Johannes and Mark Lanegan, who weave into the sound without calling much attention to themselves.
“They are friends of friends,” the guitarist noted, “so we got the opportunity to meet them and we found pleasure to play one time together. A big help they bring to us as they are so popular, so this is a great opportunity. The most important reason is each one likes the music we are playing!”
Tinariwen, said bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, is based in the Azawad part of Mali, where “most of it is the traditional music we are living [with] in our camps, we have there all the process from the tradition to the contemporary life!”
In a political climate where moving around the world has gotten tougher, he said Tinariwen is accepted wherever they go.
“We are touring a long time now,” the bassist said, “[so] the world situation does not affect us too much…as we could always travel everywhere, with visas, of course, but never has a country refused us. We think all institutions know our way, how we are giving some interest for the world population and to exchange our opinion about the situation in general.”
The group is treated “very well in general” in its travels throughout the United States, Ag Leche said, “we could feel a great curiosity!”
Asked about the evolution of Tinariwen over the decades, he noted, “At the beginning, it was a success adventure, during exile….. We were young; now we [can] feel all the power in our music and history and have a strong reason to be together still! [We’re] very happy to have enough time in our life to feel this good balance!”
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576.
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