Assalam Alaikum Tinariwen

I really hate the term “world music”. I mean not only is it terribly vague in its actual utility as a description of a distinct musical style, it’s also just reductive and condescending. It’s as if we in the West (and I’m assuming you’re Western here, if that is not the case then just ignore what I’m about to write) have taken the time to identify our music in terms of musical similarity and then just thrown everything else in a globby badly assembled amalgamated heap. It kind of reminds me of when I first moved here to Germany and was surprised/amused at the fact that there was a clearly demarcated “black” music section in my local music store… people had grouped music together on a purely non-musical basis, which is, in my opinion, utterly pointless and completely stupid.

This is why I yell at my computer.

When I recently purchased Tinariwen’s newest album, Imidiwan:Companions, I was appalled to see it listed under the genre “world music”. It’s comparable to buying a James Brown record and then seeing it listed under “earth sounds”; it’s a throwaway term and does nothing in the way of actually describing the music. There’s also the fact that if anything, Tinariwen’s brand of Tuareg desert-rock should be described as, forgive my corniness, “out-of-this-world music”… but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

You see Tinariwen, in Tamashek, means desert boys. As tempting as it is, I’m not going to try and romanticize the story of these desert boys with their guns, violence, rebellion, and amazing music. I’m also not going to give you a history lesson about the Tuareg region of Mali (although it’s actually really interesting and has everything to do with who Tinariwen are and the music they make). What I will say is that Imidiwan is not just a record. I know it’s cliché to say so, but this time I really mean it. Tinariwen aren’t making music to get girls, or to make money, or to be able to afford new Bentley, they’re doing it because it is what they do, it is the embodiment of their entire being. Their songs of political awakening, nomadic life, and desert nights, despite their delivery in traditional Tamashek, will resonate in the truest part of your soul. When I first heard Lulla with its souring chorus and uplifting, sparkling guitar, it was like a revelation, an appeal to the joy in my heart.The best part is that, althought Imidiwan is informed by the rythyms and melodies of traditional Tuareg music, you can still hear traces of Led Zepellin, or Jimi Hendrix or even Bob Marley. It’s an eclectic musical mix in the best sense of the word.

I really feel like it’s pointless for me to write more about how much I love this band (although it seems a pit paltry to call them that), and this music. Instead I’ll end with a bit written by Andy Morgan about the origins of Imidiwan:

“‘Imidiwan’ is one of those big Tamashek words, to which no single English word can ever do justice. Just like ‘Assouf’, the name which the Touareg themselves often give Tinariwen’s guitar style. ‘Assouf’ means the blues, loneliness, heartache, longing, homesickness, the darkness beyond the campfire. ‘Imidiwan’ means friends, companions, soul-brothers, fellow travellers.”

When you listen to this record, you feel as if you have been inducted into this Imidiwan along with the entire human race. You can only smile in the warm light of your communal campfire.

Lulla – Tinariwen

Ahimana – Tinariwen


One response to “Assalam Alaikum Tinariwen

  1. Thanks for the excellent heartfelt review. I am still digesting it and will have to create my own very soon.

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