Assistant Editor Ryan Bradley’s weekly exploration of great global music, in collaboration with Nat Geo Music. Video directed and edited by Anthony Subietas, produced by Ryan Bradley, with special thanks to Michael Fuchs and the Highline Ballroom.
It started in a refugee camp. Or a military camp, so the story goes. It was the early 1980s, somewhere in southern Libya or, a lawless land deep within the Sahara Desert, near the borders of Niger and Mali. They were Tuaregs, all of them, desert nomads and traders, and had been fighting the Malian government for their independence. It was in the refugee camps that they were introduced to western music—Bob Marley and Bob Dylan in particular—and they put down their guns and picked up electric guitars and called themselves Tinariwen, which means, roughly, empty places. And then, with their guitars and amps and songs of revolution, they transformed their ancient music and became the most famous Tuareg band in the world. So the story goes….
Tuaregs are Muslims (much, probably too much, is made of the fact that the men are veiled while the women are not) and the music is a form of prayer. There’s a call and response between the singers and instruments. Mimicry and repetition are a part of slow unfolding of each song, and by about the first minute, you more or less know how the rest of a melody is going to proceed. But that’s not the point. Tuareg music hits a groove and keeps on it, like James Brown, but with less urgency. You could listen to any of these songs on repeat for an hour and not tire of listening. In fact you’d barely notice.
Try, for instance, Ansari, by the group Tartit. A bit more traditional than Tinariwen, you can read more about Tartit here, and Tanriwen here. And watch the video of this Tuareg group from Niger, Tidawt, filmed two weeks ago at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan.
- Nat Geo Expeditions