Amam Imam

Finding a band that is focused on its art to the exclusion of all else has been something of a holy grail for many record executives, but in Tinariwen it’s quite possible that producer and guitarist Justin Adams has found it.

Hailing from the wilderness – lavishly photographed on the liner notes to *Aman Iman* (Water is Life) – of northeast Mali, Tinariwen is more of a clan than a fixed band. But centred around three _kel tinariwen_ (desert boys) – Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Hassan Ag Touhami and Inteyeden – theirs is a story that started in the 1980s with a guitar and dreams of Tuareg independence. Like most stories, it didn’t run smoothly – rebellion and time in Libyan military camps followed – until an encounter with the French band Lo’jo brought the Tuareg musicians the possibility of a wider audience.

With basic electric guitars, drums, voices and much improvisation, there’s raw appeal to Tinariwen’s music – a hint of Ali Farka Touré’s ur-blues, but also surprising nuances. ‘Matadjem Yinimixan’ (Why all this hate between you?) reverberates around a loose guitar riff modulating in a way that conjures up Indian ragas as interpreted by Sixties psychedelic bands. There’s nothing extraneous here, and it’s glorious to imagine the chorus of voices – male as well as female – swelling beneath a desert sky. The lyrics have a poetry, too: ‘Assouf’ (Longing) likens exile to a profound darkness. The comfort of love, both romantic and home, as expressed in ‘Izarharh Tenere’ (I Lived in the Desert), is a song that draws you closer to the stereo speakers, so as to get the full warmth of the words.

mag cover This article is from the June 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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