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“Music is a universal language.”


songs. Not so traditional though, as they’re worked with members of the Chili Peppers, Saul Williams and others to give a modern twist. Tinariwen command huge audiences, but this month Norwich Arts Centre plays host to an intimate night with them. I spoke to them about telling their history through song.


Your founding member Ibrahim Ag Alhabib grew up in Mali in destitution. How did he come to start making music? Ibrahim saw a Western film and was so inspired by it he began to look for a guitar and started playing a traditional flute. Where did the band first get together, and what did you find you had in common when you started making music?

10 / July 2016/

We met during a long period of exile, we were very young and we didn’t know what we were doing. We were called Ishumars, which came from the French word Chomeurs, people without jobs. We first met in a camp in Libya in the late 70's. What we had in common was our personal situation, but that was the case for all our population - Mali was in total crisis. So we started to

inariwen are a group of Tuareg musicians from the Saharan desert. Tey love their troubled homeland Mali so much that they’ve spent the last 40 years touring the world spreading the word about it through their warm, passionate, traditional

sing about that, the valour of our culture and how we love our style of life in the Sahara. As well as your three original members who got together in the 80’s, you’ve added three more in the 90’s. How did you come to meet each other? When we started to play worldwide we were looking to present a group with lots of instruments, so we invited some young guys we met at a traditional party with some big potential to join the music. What does the word Tinariwen mean? Tinariwen is the plural of Tenere, and it means deserts. How do you think you have managed to make people all across the world love your music? Te truth and honesty of our style. We don’t try to be something we’re not, we just are. Your 2011 album Tassili was recorded in the Algerian desert in a tent. What did those surroundings add to the record? It is more that deserts themselves give us inspiration - in the middle of nothing you can find everything! You’ve worked with musicians like Tunde Adebimpe from TV On Te Radio. Which musicians do you love to listen to or see live? We love Queens of the Stone Age, Tom Waits, Fat Freddy’s Drop, R.L Burnside, plus we have still a lot more to discover! How was it for you, spending three weeks in the Californian desert while you recorded Emmaar, your latest album, at Joshua Tree? Te most curious thing about it was to see a desert with a lot of power! Red Hot Chilli Peppers’

guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and poet Saul Williams appear on Emmaar. What did they bring to your sound? It was wonderful to play together, for them to discover our style and for us to meet some great artists. You sing in the Tamasheq language – what are the main subjects you sing about? We are singing essentially how we love our desert style of life. It is poetry where each listener can use his imagination to understand what he wants, or to dream! Your music has been created out of an environment and lifestyle that is pretty much unknown to most of the world. How does it feel when your audiences react with such enthusiasm across all the continents of the world? Music is a universal language, and we are so happy so many people can discover our culture. In a way it helps us to protect our land! Do you feel a responsibility to tell the tale of what is happening in Mali? Assouf is the name of our music, and the significance of it is our history. In our country we still have a lot of international problems. Our population has been suffering for several decades. We can help people to understand what is happening but we cannot take part in the conflict directly; we are looking to return to peace. Te problem we have in Mali is a reflection of how the world is going as a whole. We all have to take responsibility to build the world of tomorrow! Is it safe for you to return to your homeland at the moment? We still go back to our land in between tours. What’s next for Tinariwen? We’ll soon be releasing a new album we recorded in the deserts of Morocco.



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