Tinariwen ) is a group of Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali. The band was formed in 1979 in Tamanrasset, Algeria, but returned to Mali after a peace accord between 1990 and 1995. The group first started to gain a following outside the Sahara region in 2001 with the release of the album The Radio Tisdas Sessions, and with performances at Festival au Désert in Mali and the Roskilde Festival in Denmark.
Their popularity rose internationally with the release of the critically acclaimed album Aman Iman in 2007. NPR calls the group "music's true rebels",AllMusic deems the group's music "a grassroots voice of rebellion", and Slate calls the group "rock 'n' roll rebels whose rebellion, for once, wasn't just metaphorical".
Tinariwen was founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib who, at age four witnessed the execution of his father, a Tuareg rebel, during a 1963 uprising in Mali. As a child he saw a western film in which a cowboy played a guitar. Ag Alhabib built his own guitar out of a "plastic water can, a stick and some fishing wire", according to future bandmate Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni. Ag Alhabib first lived in Algeria in refugee camps near Bordj Badji Mokhtar and in the deserts around the southern city of Tamanrasset, where he was given a guitar from a local Arab man.
Later, Ag Alhabib resided with other Tuareg exiles in Libya and Algeria. He acquired his first real acoustic guitar in 1979. During this period he formed a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil to play at parties and weddings. While the group had no official name, people began to call them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language translates as "The People of the Deserts" or "The Desert Boys."
In 1980 Libyan ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi put out a decree inviting all young Tuareg men who were living illegally in Libya to receive full military training. Gaddafi dreamed of forming a Saharan regiment, made up of young Tuareg fighters, to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger, and elsewhere. Ag Alhabib and his bandmates answered the call and received nine months of training. During such exercises, the band met additional Tuareg musicians and formed a loosely-organized collective, now known as Tinariwen, to create songs about the issues facing the Tuareg people. They built a makeshift studio and vowed to record music for free for anyone who supplied a blank cassette tape. The resulting homemade cassettes were traded widely throughout the Sahara region.
In 1989 the collective left Libya and moved to Ag Alhabib's home country of Mali, where he returned to his home village of Tessalit for the first time in 26 years. In 1990 the Tuareg people of Mali revolted against the government, with some members of Tinariwen participating as rebel fighters. After a peace agreement known as the Tamanrasset Accords was reached in January 1991, the musicians left the rebel movement and devoted themselves to music full-time. In 1992 some of the members of Tinariwen went to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire to record a cassette at JBZ studios. They played occasional gigs for far-flung Tuareg communities throughout the Sahara region, gaining word-of-mouth popularity among the Tuareg people.
In 1998 Tinariwen came to the attention of the French world music ensemble Lo'Jo and their manager Philippe Brix. That group traveled to a music festival in Bamako and met two members of the Tinariwen collective. In 1999, some members of Tinariwen traveled to France and performed with Lo'Jo under the name Azawad. The two groups organized the January 2001 Festival au Désert in Essakane, Mali with Tinariwen as the headliners, and in cooperation with the Belgian Sfinks Festival. Their debut commercial album, The Radio Tisdas Sessions, was recorded by Justin Adams and Jean-Paul Romann at the radio station of the same name in Kidal, Mali and released in 2001. It was Tinariwen's first recording to be released outside of northern Africa.
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