The rhythm of the tende drum evokes the hooves of nomadic camel caravans. The singers clap and lift their voices in call and response in Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg people. Then, rising snake-like from the sand, is the hypnotic cry of electric guitar and bass. This is the sound of Tinariwen, the Grammy Award-winning band that put Sahara blues on the world music map.
On Nov 13, Tinariwen will bring their songs of the desert to Kuala Lumpur at their first-ever concert in Malaysia, to be held at KL Live. Kuala Lumpur is the only Southeast Asian destination on Tinariwen’s Asia Tour 2017, which includes appearances in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai and Dhaka.
Founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib in 1979, Tinariwen is a group of Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert of northern Mali. They started playing music in the refugee camps of Algeria, where they lived in exile in the aftermath of the Tuareg rebellion of 1962-64. Ibrahim fled with his grandmother to Algeria at the age of four after his rebel father was executed right before his eyes.
Ibrahim cobbled together his first guitar from scraps of wire, tin and sticks, and taught himself how to play music. Influenced by North African chaabi music, Algerian rai, as well as James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, he formed a band with other Tuareg musicians. They started out playing at weddings and baptisms, where they developed their distinctive sound which has come to be known as ‘desert blues’.
Seamlessly blending the melodies and rhythms of ancient oral traditions with modern instruments like electric guitars, the music of Tinariwen is at once timeless and contemporary. Their sound is rooted in the traditional West African guitar style known as assouf that originated from the “great bend” region along the Niger River, between Timbuktu and Gao. Their lyrics reach back to old poetic styles while giving expression to the here and now.
The Tuareg word assouf means the loneliness, homesickness, heartache and longing that characterises nomadic life. In the liner notes to Aman Iman, one of Tinariwen’s albums, assouf is said to be “everything that lies in the darkness beyond the light of the campfire”. It is a primal longing, as once described by Ibrahim in an interview: “Our music is a vehicle for old sentiment — which is most essential for us. Nostalgia. We call it Assouf. We say, ‘We play Assouf.’ The effect of our music comes from ancient practices in our culture.”
The founding members of Tinarwen came together in the refugee camps of Algeria and the military camps of Libya, where Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi had put out a call in 1980 to train Tuareg fighters. They deserted camp after several months, once they realised that they were not being trained to fight for the Tuareg cause. The following years were spent among Tuareg rebels in Libya, and as part the Tuareg rebellion in Mali of the early 1990s. During this time, Tinariwen started to write songs about the issues facing the Tuareg people, including themes of longing to return to their homeland and way of life. In a makeshift studio, they recorded their music on cassettes that were circulated widely among youth in the Sahara region.
In 1992, the members of Tinariwen laid down their weapons and took up their guitars, to dedicate themselves to music full-time. Encounters with musicians and managers from Europe catapulted them onto the world stage, where they have captivated listeners and fellow musicians ever since. Among Tinariwen’s ardent admirers are celebrated musicians such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and Carlos Santana. With seven albums to date and a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album (Tassili) in 2012, Tinariwen has left their indelible mark on the world of music.
Presented by Pusaka and Selangor Youth Community (SAY), Tinariwen — Live in KL will give Kuala Lumpur music lovers the rare opportunity to experience the power and poetry of these legendary pioneers of Sahara Blues. Supported by Malindo Air, the concert will be opened by renowned Malaysian Indian temple drummers, Chinna Rasa Urumee Melum Masana Kali.
Proceeds from this concert will go towards the project Creative Youth. This project is dedicated for the long-term creative and cultural development of Malaysian youth, through wider exposure and cultural exchange, as well as training programmes with our local masters of tradition to support transmission to the next generation. The project offers youth wider exposure to celebrated world music artists as well as deeper engagement with local masters of tradition, while nurturing their own creativity and empowering them to explore new avenues for cultural expression.
Tinariwen is the perfect band to inaugurate such a project as the band has played a vital role in nurturing creativity among youth in their respective communities. Their music has inspired an entire generation of Tuareg youth to reclaim their heritage and identity as they face the challenges of contemporary life, navigating their unsettled path between longing and exile.
TINARIWEN - LIVE IN KL
When Monday, 13 November 2017, 8-10PM
Where KL Live, Life Centre Kuala Lumpur
• General (RM120): Ticketpro (www.ticketpro.com.my)
• VIP (RM250) & Premium (RM160): PUSAKA (email@example.com)
For more information, visit Facebook: Tinariwen - Live in KL, or call 03-7732 1407