Tinariwen is a critically acclaimed Saharan Tuareg group who perform a guitar-centric branch of Malian music known as "Tishoumaren," a percussive, rock-oriented desert blues which often addresses social and political issues. Emerging out of the refugee and rebel camps of Algeria and Libya, the collective built a regional audience throughout the '80s and returned to Mali in the '90s; they eventually earned global recognition with their first internationally released album, 2001's The Radio Tisdas Sessions. In the ensuing years, Tinariwen became a highly touted international touring act playing major festivals like WOMAD, Glastonbury, and Coachella and winning a Grammy Award for their 2011 album Tassili, on which they collaborated with various Western musicians. They continued for the remainder of the decade to release innovative new music, including 2019's Amadjar.
Formed in 1979 by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, a Malian refugee, the group coalesced in the early-'80s in the Libyan rebel camps of Colonel Gaddafi, as each of the musicians had been forced from their nomadic lifestyle into involuntary military service. Surrounded by a displaced nation of their peers, Tinariwen forged a new style of music, trading their traditional lutes and shepherd's flutes for electric guitars and drums. The style that resulted was dubbed "Tishoumaren," or "the music of the unemployed." Their music addresses issues such as political awakening, problems of exile, repression of their people, and demands of sovereignty.
In a region with no postal or telephone system, their tapes soon became a grassroots voice of rebellion and a rallying point for the disenfranchised nation. Though outlawed in Algeria and Mali, 2001's The Radio Tisdas Sessions and 2004's Amassakoul are available to Western audiences. In 2006, they recorded their third album, Aman Iman: Water Is Life, released internationally in 2007 by Harmonia Mundi's World Village imprint. The album was produced by Justin Adams and featured the voice and guitar of founding member Mohammed Ag Itlale. In its wake, Tinariwen toured the world for the first time. They followed the album with Imidiwan: Companions, a two-disc set containing one disc of music and a DVD documentary about Tinariwen's history. This was once again followed by a world tour that included numerous festival appearances in the United States and Europe.
Tinariwen signed to America's Anti- imprint in 2010. The label encouraged them to experiment. The end result was Tassili, issued in 2011, in which the band recorded a completely acoustic set in a protected region of the southeastern Algerian desert. The tapes were flown to America where guitarist Nels Cline overdubbed electric guitars and New Orleans' famed Dirty Dozen Brass Band added horns, making Tassili a truly international collaboration. The album won a Grammy. The bandmembers were forced to flee Mali due to political and social unrest, and recorded their follow-up, Emmaar, at a studio in Joshua Tree National Park in the United States. It was released in February of 2014. Despite ongoing political upheaval, the band reconvened in 2016 after touring behind Emmaar to record their sixth studio album, Elwan.
Following a world tour in support of Elwan and an appearance at the 2018 Taragalte Festival of nomadic cultures in Morocco, Tinariwen set out on a journey to Nouakchott, Mauritania, where they would join singer Noura Mint Seymali and her husband, guitarist Jeiche Ould Chigaly, to create their new album. Written during the journey and recorded live without overdubs in a tent in the desert, Amadjar features instrumental contributions added later by a diverse array of Western collaborators including Warren Ellis, Micah Nelson, Stephen O'Malley, Rodolphe Burger, and Cass McCombs. It was released by Anti- in 2019. ~ Evan C. Gutierrez & Thom Jurek