TINARIWEN are guitar-poets from the southern Sahara desert on the World Village label. They are icons of freedom and resistance among their own people, the nomadic Touareg of the Sahara. The word tinariwen is the plural of ténéré, which simply means “desert” in Tamashek, the language of the Touareg.
The group was founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Hassan Ag Touhami and Inteyeden Ag Ableline in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria, at the end of the 1970s. It was a period of great suffering in the desert, due to the catastrophic droughts of the early 1970s that had decimated animal herds and almost destroyed the Touareg’s ancient nomadic way of life. Tinariwen began to write songs describing the pain of exile, the longing for lost homes and families, the struggle for political and cultural freedom, and the rigors of everyday life in the desert. Their music became the soundtrack for a whole generation of exiled Touareg youth who were living a hand-to-mouth existence in exile in Algeria and Libya.
It was not only the subject matter but also the sound of the group that was radically different. Ibrahim transposed the traditional melodies of the Touareg on the electric guitar, mixing them with blues, rock, pop, Berber, and Arabic influences. Tinariwen created a modern desert rock sound, whose harsh simplicity was well suited to the realities of their situation.
Lured into rebel training camps in Libya by Colonel Gadaffi in the early 1980s, Tinariwen became the official mouthpiece of the Touareg rebellion, and their songs carried the message of awareness and resistance to the far corners of the desert. In 1990 all the founding members of the group took part in the Touareg rebellions in northern Mali and Niger.
After the end of the rebellion, Tinariwen emerged as a desert legend. They joined up with the French group Lo’Jo to organize the first Festival in the Desert in 2001. That was the year that they also first starting touring in Europe. Now with three successful albums released, including the latest Aman Iman (2007); numerous tours of Europe, U.S., and the Far East; appearances at the most prestigious festivals; and a BBC Award for World Music, Tinariwen have emerged as one of the most exciting and successful bands from Africa in recent times.
Tinariwen are the ambassadors of one of the oldest and proudest people on earth. They play their music to teach others about the beauty of their desert home; the strength and dignity of the nomads’ way of life; and the problems of poverty, oppression, and lack of development that continue to hamper their progress.