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Published: 2013/05/13
by Glenn H. Roth

Never Surrender: Tinariwen Keeps Making Music

Tinariwen currently has 6 touring musicians, including yourself. What are the musicians names and what element do they bring to the band?

Touhami Ag Alhassane, my friend for almost 40 years now. He’s our daily performer, playing the guitar and singing with his very intuitive style. Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, 10 years younger is the loyal writer-composer. Eyadou Ag Leche, joined the band at 20 years old as the bassist. He is also a very promising guitarist and singer. Said Ag Ayad joined the band at 20 years old like Eyadou. He plays the percussions, played one thousand shows and Elaga Ag Hamid, my nephew, plays the guitar which he enjoys and performs perfectly.

Can you talk about what your 40-year friendship with Touhami has meant to you?

This friendship is a huge life adventure, composed of shared moments and sometimes distant ones. Our friendship is a good illustration of Tinariwen’s foundation.

As the founding member, can you talk about the deep emotional connection you have to the music?

The connection we have to the music is always the most sincere expression we have deep down our heart. When we can feel happiness while playing just a moment, this gives us a huge freedom feeling.

How would describe the band’s playing and singing style?

We have always been playing the guitar in a very intuitive and natural way. Our technique is totally spontaneous, and inspired by both traditional rhythms and old and contemporary poetries. Tinariwen’s job is to relay people’s message to the people.

Can you talk about the importance of performing in the traditional garb?

Our clothes are traditional ones, we love them. We already thought about playing with occidental clothes of course, which already happened, only partially and sometimes.

How did things change for the band, following your headlining appearance at the 2001 Mali’s Festival au Desert?

Lo’jo invited Tinariwen to come for the first time in 2001. The annual 2003 of this festival was a real success and gave us a lot of energy and offered a focus to our culture and our people.

What was it like winning the 2012 Grammy for best world music with the album Tassili ?

We are very happy about this award, especially at a time that our people need recognition and need to be heard in order to survive and to find peace again in Sahara. We can say that with Tassili we can feel the experience of the band at every level.

Why do you think it took so long for your music to be heard/recognized by the mainstream music world?

I think there are many reasons. Our specific style, people often need some time to feel our music. The world is immense, but we actually try to play everywhere as long as it is possible. We never worked any marketing plan. Which is what we like. We aim at living in the most simple, humble and independent way.

What memories did you take away with you from your Bonnaroo appearance?

It is when we met Kyp (Malone) and Tunde (Adebimpe) from TV on the Radio.

Why were you so excited to meet those particular guys? And who are some of your musical influences/heroes?

Meeting people and the result of those meetings are sometimes simply very pleasant moments, and this time it actually lead us to invite them to our recording session in Sahara. This happened to be an extraordinary human adventure. We didn’t have that many influences in the past when we were mostly in the desert. Now a hero for us could be Tom Waits.

What are the band’s plans for 2013?

Few appearances but essentially we would like to record some new sound.

When do you think the band will get back into the studio, and any ideas on what direction, sound wise, the band might take?

We are working actually on the new record. We have no precision to explain now but for sure we are looking for feeling the desert ambiance everywhere as it is very hard in our land right now.

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