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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January, 2005, 11:33 GMT
Sweet sounds of Tuareg former fighters
By Judith Poiton
BBC News

Tinariwen have been called the first Tuareg electric guitar band

A rebel training camp in Libya does not automatically spring to mind as the ideal birthplace for an award-winning band.

But it was in such a camp that the Malian group Tinariwen, winners of a 2005 BBC Radio 3 World Music award, was founded.

If you were caught with Tinariwen's music in your possession... this could get you arrested
Tinariwen's UK-based manager Andy Morgan

Tinariwen, which means "empty spaces", is made up of Tuareg, the nomadic people who have roamed the southern Sahara for centuries.

In the early 1960s, fighting erupted between the Tuareg and the newly-independent Malian government. This conflict coupled with drought in the mid-1970s forced many of the nomadic people into exile in neighbouring countries.

Many went to Algeria, but some took refuge in Libya, where they were trained to fight for Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi's dream of a grand Saharan state.

It was there, in 1982, that Tinariwen came together and learned to play the guitar - as well as use a Kalashnikov.

They developed a particular style of music - a mixture of traditional Tuareg instruments and electric guitars. The group has been labelled "the first Tuareg electric guitar band".

'Enemy music'

The band's members returned to Mali in the early 1990s as Tuareg tribes launched a second rebellion over land, cultural and linguistic rights.

At that time "Tinariwen's music was the music of the 'enemy'," Tinariwen's UK-based manager Andy Morgan told the BBC News website.

"If you were caught with Tinariwen's music in your possession by the Malian army or police, it could be construed that you were a sympathiser, and this could get you arrested."

But as a peace accord was reached with the Malian government and the fighting stopped in the mid-1990s, Tinariwen were able to focus on their music.

The group came to the world's attention in 2001 when it helped to set up the Festival in the Desert - a showcase for Malian music and tourism in the Sahara.

It has become an annual event set in Essakane, an oasis 65km from Timbuktu. The organisers hope that it will "promote northern Mali and show that the Sahara is a peaceful region".

Despite their success, Tinariwen have not abandoned their nomadic roots and are still influenced by their time spent in exile. In their latest album, Amassakoul, they sing about travelling in the desert and Tuareg traditions.

The group is still roaming, but now their travels take them beyond the Sahara to performances in the UK, France, Australia and even further afield.

In pictures: Festival in the Desert 2004
30 Jan 04 |  Photo Gallery


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