Tinariwen is the plural of ténéré, which simply means "desert" in the African language Tamashek. The name is fitting for these Sahara Desert musicians, and their music captures the beauty, hardships, longing, and isolation of their nomadic lifestyle. Tinariwen began in Libyan resistance camps in the 1980s when most members of the group lived as freedom fighters for Tuaregs, wishing to hold onto a desert lifestyle while being oppressed by the Malian government. Guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib wrote songs for the resistance, influenced by rock music played in the camps. The result is music that's at once rich and inspired, energetic and moving, but also desolate, haunting, and spiritual. It ebbs and swells on layers of syncopated rhythms composed of hand claps, multiple guitars, bass, assorted hand drums, vocal harmonies, shrill wails, and indigenous instruments like krakesh, darbouka, guellal, and calabash. Whether this lush interplay is upbeat or restrained, it is Alhabib's intricate, bluesy guitar style, steeped in Malian traditions, that presents the most immediate impact. Hypnotic and captivating, the music also crosses cultural boundaries. The band's most recent release, 2011's Grammy-winning Tassili, features members of TV on the Radio and Wilco, among others.
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