Tinariwen, Mali’s Tuareg Blues Legends
The African blues legends of Tinariwen have an incredible back-story that speaks to the importance of patience and persistence on the path to success, particularly in times of crisis. Formed in 1979 by musicians born in the Sahara Desert of northern Mali, the ensemble came together in Algerian refugee camps, where they lived to escape persecution after the Tuareg rebellion of 1962-64.
Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who witnessed the execution of his father (a Tuareg rebel) at age four and later made his first guitar from a tin can, a stick, and bicycle brake wire, founded the band. Radical protest songs from Morocco, Algerian rai, and classic rock artists such as Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix influenced their music, but they started out playing weddings and baptisms. Locals called them Kel Tinariwen, which loosely translates from the Tamasheq language as “the People of the Desert.”
In 1980, Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi enlisted Tuareg men to receive military training, and Ag Alhabib and Co. heeded the call. In 1985 they did the same for Tuareg rebels, and ultimately met up with other musicians who would join the band. Tinariwen began writing songs about the sociopolitical issues facing their people, recording them onto cassettes for free for anyone who wanted one. Their “Desert Blues” sound began to spread by word-of-mouth, giving voice to the problems of the Tuareg people.
Then, after returning to Mali for the first time in 26 years, the second Tuareg rebellion of 1990 sent Ag Alhabib and his friends back to fighting for their lives and freedom.