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Tinariwen

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southern Sahara (1982 – present)

Tinariwen (plural of ténéré “desert”) is a band of Tuareg-Berber musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali. The band’s fifth album Tassili, released in 2011, won the Award for Best World Music Album at the 54th Grammy Awards.

Formed in 1982, in strikingly unusual circumstances for a musical ensemble, Tinariwen blend ancient musical traditions with radical contemporary politics. Despite severe natural and man-made hardships, young Kel Tamashek exiles continued performing the traditional music of their Tuareg forebears in the southern Sahara while simultaneously fighting against the government of Mali.

Forced to seek an alternative to starvation and repression in drought-stricken Mali, many of these young nomads hoped to attain a better life by striking up what proved to be an uneasy alliance with Libya. The hoped-for aid in their struggle with the Mali government failed to materialize, but in the meantime some of the rebels had evolved a form of music that kept alive the music of their forefathers while simultaneously communicating radical political messages. This music is known as tishoumaren, music of the ishumar (the unemployed). Usually performed by groups of 30 and more instrumentalists and singers, tishoumaren acknowledges contemporary western music, especially rock, as well as other music forms prevalent in the Middle East, while never losing touch with the original ancient form. In some instances, players not only adapt traditional forms but also substitute modern instruments for the traditional lutes, flutes and one-string violins. The electric guitar in particular has become popular, even though circumstances demand the availability of portable generators.

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