Even if you do not know the story of Tinariwen, the Tuareg nomads-turned-rock-performers, you can sense their rebel souls in their latest recording Aman Iman: Water is Life (World Village, worldvillagemusic.com--March 20, 2007 release). The band made waves throughout the Sahara Desert playing what became the soundtrack for Tuareg independence and reconciliation. And now they are making waves in the American and European rock scenes. The latest buzz echoes their D.I.Y. origins in their barren homeland.
Tinariwen’s edgy, bluesy sound has earned them fans like Robert Plant and Carlos Santana, whose music inspired Tinariwen’s members when they first picked up guitars. While Plant has dedicated his career to exploring and exploiting the bent blues note he recognizes as African, Tinariwen listened to Led Zeppelin while in military training camps in Algeria. Plant’s guitarist Justin Adams produced the band's latest recording, three years after the two joined Tinariwen and several other bands on the stage of the Festival in the Desert, an annual musical gathering based on a Tuareg tradition in which desert dwellers gather for camel races, sword-fighting displays, and campfire music. Meanwhile, last July, Santana invited Tinariwen to play as part of his “My Blues Is Deep” night at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
“People often point to Tinariwen as a real rockin’ band with this kind of hard, droney energy,” says manager Andy Morgan. “But there are certain songs on the album that represent this very spooky, very spaced out, desert feel where they are not trying to make dance music at all. The last song on the album, ‘I Lived in the Desert’ speaks about Ibrahim’s experience with the whole spirit world. There is this very rich belief in spirits. Ibrahim spends a lot of time in the desert. He tells endless examples of where he’s been out in desert on his own, playing guitar around midnight and he gets this horrendously scary feeling that there are spirits around him. He might be sleeping by a well and he hears voices as if there is a whole troop of travelers to give water to their animals. But when he goes to look, there is nobody. Or he meets someone where the person looks at him and is silent but there is another being inside this person who talks to him and tells him things. It is a part of the pre-Islamic animist culture of the Tuaregs. That last song is very much about that. People latch onto the fact that they were in a rebellion. But there is also this very spiritual side of them which is all to do with the desert, nature, calmness, quietness… the mystery of it all.”
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