Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Tinariwen – Tenere Taqqim Tossam

Tinariwen are one of Mali’s most successful bands. Malian music is more or less dominated by powerful and iconic characters. Many of course play with support bands, but on festival billings and album covers the name is usually only the name of the superstar member playing the dominant instrument e.g. Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté.

Naturally, therefore, Tinariwen being a band means that their songs are dominated less by one instrument, building instead songs where each instrument contributes to the rhythm and are varied in tempo, style and mood.

This week’s track comes from their 5th studio album “Tassili” and the track itself is their first single release. This album was actually recorded in Algeria- their only album to date to have been recorded outside of Mali – however the band originates from the most northerly Saharan part of Mali. Their name comes from the Tamasheq – Tuareg language – for “The People of the Deserts” – Kel Tinariwen. However after receiving military training in Lybia as young men, it is explained in the bio on their own website that if there was ‘one image’ that could summarise Tinariwen it was “that of Touareg rebels leading the charge, machine gun in hand and electric guitar slung over the shoulder.”

The band itself can be seen as a case of successful demobilisation, at least on a micro scale, despite devastatingly impoverishing conditions. Many of those that fought in the war were not as fortunate. After the ceasefire of 1994, the band – already gaining in popularity regionally – moved back to Mali. In their own words they “became the spokespeople of a generation which looked on helplessly as their harvests thinned, their animal herds wasted away and their world slowly crumbled.” Each successive album has been a greater and greater success and their international stature only seems to increase.

Tinariwen is obviously made up of emotive and hardy people. The keen-spirited nature of “Tenere Taqqim Tossam” and the album “Tissili” is a perhaps intentional. The band point out that the album was their first attempt to “ditch” the gun-wielding image of the band described above. A new album is apparently on its way, as is a UK tour, however details are thin on the ground. We will have to wait and see if and how the events of the years since “Tissili” was released in 2011 have affected the bands musical compositions.

But for now, enjoy Tinariwen’s “Tenere Taqqim Tossam.”

Tinarwien – Tenere Taqqim Tossam

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