An aperitif with Tinariwen: “To compose, you feel more free in the desert than in a studio”

The group of Tuareg musicians Tinariwen in residence in Reims at the Cartonnerie, May 18, 2023. From left to right: Elaga Ag Hamid, Hassan Ag Touhami, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, Sanou Ag Ahmed, Saïd Ag Ayad, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Cheick Ag Tiglia.

We were initially supposed to drink the tea under a tent pitched in the desert of southern Algeria. We already imagined the teapots being emptied and filled according to the discussions around the Tuareg blues with the seven most famous blue men in the world. But for the press officer and the manager of the Malian group Tinariwen, bringing together the seven members, from scattered countries planted all over the north of Mali and neighboring Algeria, is a feat.

On May 18, a less nomadic aperitif was therefore offered to us in the cool, between two rehearsals, in one of the boxes of the Cartonnerie de Reims, the concert hall where the Tuareg musicians were welcomed in residence. On this sunny Thursday, the desert bluesmen left their traditional boubou in the closet. Pants, sneakers and a cigarette in their mouths, their faces are tired and they try to smooth out their features by chaining teas.

They finished late the day before, wrapping France Inter’s studio 104 in the serpentine riffs of their guitars and that hypnotic groove that made the band famous worldwide. The next day released their ninth album, Amatsou“Beyond fear” in Tamasheq, the language of the Tuareg.

Their tour was also about to start: 36 dates across the United States and Europe. Nomads but above all attached to their land, Azawad, located in the north of Mali, the members of Tinariwen like to go on a mop, but prefer the sand of the desert to the asphalt of western roads.

Telling about exile

“As for almost all our albums, we went to record the last one in the desert, but this time far from home, in Djanet, in the south of Algeria. It allows us to better tell the life and exile of the Tuareg. To compose, you feel more free in the desert than in a studio”, emphasizes Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, in a calm voice. On the table next to the singer, composer and guitarist, the tea is boiling, but he pays little attention to it.

How many have they drunk since this morning? Nobody counts them anymore, and the minds are elsewhere, focused on the repetition of their new songs, which take up the themes dear to Tinariwen: the struggles and the union of the Tuareg, nostalgia, love and the desert. So, unfaithful to the principles of the aperitif, we stayed in the water for once to listen to the fascinating story of this group, born in exile and who have been telling it ever since.

Read also: Tinariwen, Dune Rebels

For Tinariwen – “the deserts” in Tamasheq – the adventure began at the end of the 1960s. Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, charismatic leader of the group and silent when he was not behind his guitar and his microphone, then fled the north from Mali to Algeria after his father was executed by the Malian army during the first Tuareg rebellion against the state.

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