Tinariwen’s sinuous electric guitars and galloping rhythms meld with centuries-old traditional melodies, collective vocals, and punctuating handclaps to create the new sound of desert blues from Mali. Walker Art Center and the Cedar Cultural Center present a concert by Tinariwen on Saturday, April 8, at 8 pm at the Cedar Cultural Center. This band of Touaregs was formed in a refugee camp in Libya in the early 1980s when they traded their guns for electric guitars to create gutty, riff-driven songs of exile and rebellion. Their East-meets-West sound has kindred roots that stretch from Bob Marley to John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry to Ali Farka Toure. Presented as standing room with limited seating. The Cedar Cultural Center is located at 416 Cedar Avenue South, Minneapolis.
Tinariwen was formed in the 1980s in the Touareg village of Kidal in Northern Mali. Like many other nomadic people, the Touareg people have been split by the modern boundaries in Africa, and are scattered in Mali as well as in Niger, Mauritania, Algeria, and Libya. Traditionally living from and with livestock and camel caravans throughout the Sahara desert, their way of living has now more or less disappeared, their culture increasingly marginalized. Their civilization, like other nomadic cultures such as the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania, is under severe pressure.
Tamashek is the most common language of Mali’s Touareg population that has historically existed around the desert city of Timbuktu. “Taghret Tinariwen” which was the original name of the group, means ‘the enlightenment of the nation’ in Tamashek, and explains the ideals of the band. Mali gained its independence from France in 1960. The post-colonial Malian government immediately sought to assimilate the rebellious wanderers to the north to no avail, and initiated a brutal campaign of suppression in 1963 that forever changed the lines of the Touareg, who were forced to migrate towards Algeria.
“The Touareg people themselves, because they’re nomadic, never really respected national borders, they don’t like paying taxes and they resent being governed by far-off people who speak different languages from them,” says British guitarist Justin Adams, who has helped produce and distribute Tinariwen’s first full-length album, The Radio Tisdas Sessions.
The difficult situation of the Touaregs led to armed struggle against the Malian authorities in the beginning of the 1990s. Several of the Tinariwen band members had been living in refugee camps in Libya, some in Algeria, before consolidating to their current lineup. In these camps many Touaregs heard for the first time music by artists like Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix, and were introduced for the first time to the electric guitar. The instrument stands as a symbol of rebellion among young people all over the world and as a symbol for the group’s approach to modernity. The group members gradually changed guns with guitars, electrifying traditional Touereg music.
Tickets to Tinariwen are $26 ($22 Walker/Cedar Cultural Center members) and are available by contacting the Walker Art Center box office at 612.375.7600 or walkerart.org/tickets.