Tinariwen: The Voice Of Amazigh Tuareg and The Music of resistance


The 1963 Malian Army repression of the Tuareg’s rebellion, which was followed by the devastating drought of 1973-1974, marked the beginning of the first large-scale migration toward the Maghreb and sub-Saharian Africa of the Tuareg people. The younger members of the Tuareg’s Diaspora abandoned the traditional shepherd’s life and began a cycle of part-time jobs and unemployment. They will be, from now on, known as ishumar ( singular: ashamur), a berber adaptation of the French word chômeur (jobless).

These new generations of exiles, disoriented by homesickness and the difficult conditions of their status, brought about a new political awareness which led to the fight for social justice for the Tuareg people. In 1990, following the massacre of Tuareg leaders by the Nigerian Army in the town of Tchin Tabaraden, a group of young warriors launched an uprising. After five years of fierce combat, the Malian and Nigerian government signed a peace agreement with a few of the rebellion’s representatives. The birth of the band Taghreft Tinariwen in 1982 is closely tied to the exile status and wandering of the Tuareg people. Tinariwen is the very embodiment of this Diaspora. Its musicians share the Adrar of the Ifoghas as their land and invites to political awakening. It addresses the pains and difficulties of exile, of repression and political claims. During their exile, the band performed mainly at teens’ night or traditional gatherings and holidays ( weddings, baptisms …).

Little by little, Tinariwen grew into a complete band, blending tradition and contemporary styles. This led to the addition of two female vocalists to accompany the singers, in order to create a link to the musical traditions of the camps, while the guitars establish their openness to modern music.

Tinariwen is not only the first of the ishumar’s bands, but also the most famous. The Tishumarin musical style plays an important role in the cultural awareness of the Tuareg youth. Exile and resistence are major themes of  the ishumar, but over time Tinariwen have come, through their songs, to symbolize the daily life in Tamasheq country.


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