Tinariwen :: Amassakoul

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Amassakoul

All last week, I’ve been listening to and humming songs by my latest discovery, Tinariwen! They hail from the Southern Sahara or Sahel region of Mali in Western Africa. Tinariwen literally means deserts or empty spaces, and the group formed in 1979, surprisingly early, until they came to the limelight in 1998 in France.

Well, you might simply label theirs as African ethnic music without thinking too much, but several popular artists and musical traditions came to my mind when listening to them. First, the Blues… yes, the Blues! It’s a historical fact that the Blues originated from Western Africa and was carried off to America with the slaves. No wonder Ali Farka Tour√© became widely popular after being discovered by Westerners and he soon forged a Blues fanbase. Tinariwen follows similar musical trends, except that they have a different ethnic background — they are Tuaregs, desert nomads who are culturally and linguistically closer to Semites rather than their southern descendants of the Songhai Empire. And their music is more akin to Rock ‘n Roll than Blues!


Vividly present in their music is a nomadic detachment from civilization —¬† something that is ingrained in the members of the group, who are led by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, a former rebel who took up arms against the oppression of the central government in the 90’s. Obviously, rebellious elements and tribal identity, as well as political disillusionment and feelings in exile, are also present. In a changed world perspective, they now also sing about peace and African unity, and desert maidens don’t go ignored either!

Alhabib and friends started their musical career with “tincan guitars”, but now they play electric guitars which are aptly tuned to traditional chords, and make wailing sounds that evoke the lonesome desert atmosphere. The guitar is complemented by hand-clapping and derboukas and djembes, as well as a female/mixed chorus section which gives the songs an ambience with their ululating sounds. Their first release Amassakoul is a compilation of eleven great tracks with enough musical and thematic variations to keep you wanting for more!

Sampler

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