Wednesday 24 July 2019

Tinariwen - Zawal

If you have heard of West African blues, odds are you have heard of Tinariwen. Made up of Tuareg musicians from a Saharan region of Northern Mali, the band was originally formed in Algeria by three young exiles who were dispossessed as a result of their participation in rebellions against the Malian government for the preservation of Tuareg culture. They acquired their name by accident; when they became popular performers at weddings and parties people began to refer to them as “ken Tinariwen”, which roughly translates from Tamasheq as “the desert boys”.

The band has survived many phases: gaining and losing members; touring internationally; collaborating with such artists as Robert Plant(!) and Bono(?); and winning numerous accolades, including a Grammy Award in 2012. They are set to release their new album Amadjar in September. Tinariwen blends bluesy riffs with more traditional Tuareg melodies. They use electric guitars, layering them on top of each other to build intricate, well-coordinated polyrhythms.

Ready to be infuriated? In the wake of announcing the North American leg of their tour, it was reported yesterday that the comments section of the ad announcing their Winston-Salem show was littered with racist comments and threats. The venue's owners have expressed deep regret and sadness at these posts, deciding to keep the comments up rather than burying them. They also plan to increase security for the show.

Tinariwen have spent their lives fighting injustice, standing up for their culture against those who would seek to erase them. They have dealt with perennial political instability and violence. Comments from idiots on facebook are unlikely to phase them. It saddens me, genuinely, that those posting such comments are too closed off to begin to appreciate music that is, simply, extraordinary. In a telling irony, as the band pointed out in a twitter post yesterday: “Amadjar means ‘the unknown visitor’ in Tamasheq, the one who seeks hospitality and who’s condemned to an inner exile, within a territory or within himself.”

Support them. Listen to them. If they are playing near you, go to one of their shows. And listen to their latest single, “Zawal”, which highlights that they are better than ever.

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