May 4, 2014 By Abid Aboobaker

They Sing Ishhumar, Their Exile

tinariwen-el-rey-theatre-7316898-87_0With the 54th Grammy Awards for the best world music album going to Tinariwen, a band born in Libya and brought up in the Sahara desert of Mali, a West African landlocked region, the accolade has added to the fame and stature of the African musical team. The band consists of artists Mustapha Ag Ahmed, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Said Ag Ayad, Elaga Ag Hamid, Eyadou Ag Leche, Mohamad Ag Tahada, Alhassane Ag Touhami, sound engineers/mixers David Odlum and Jean Paul Romann and producers Ian Brennan and Jean Paul Romann. The award is specially given to the band for its 2011-album Tassili, which powefully evokes the audioty images of exile, nostalgia and yearnings for return.
Bass player Eyadou ag Leche explained to Larry Rother of New York Times the purpose and meaning of Tassili in the following words:
“We wanted to go back to our origins, to the experience of ishumar (being exile), Those were times when we would sit around a campfire, singing songs and passing around a guitar. Tinariwen was born in that movement, in that atmosphere, so what you hear on ‘Tassili’ is the feeling of ishumar.”
The band was formed in 1979 in the backdrop of conflicts in Mali by Ibrahim ag Alhabib who had fled the region as a child after his father was murdered by the government militia. He found Libya a fertile ground to write and sing songs on the pain undergone by the Tuaregs who rebelled against the government. Incidently, Muammer Ghaddafi backed the rebellion. Ibrahim joined a Tuareg army (the nomadic tribe had spread the southwestern Libya). To read more about Tuaregs, go to the link
According to the website of Tinariwen (, Ebrahim ag Alhabib and other musicians who belonged to the band were influenced by  radical chaabi protest music of Moroccan groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala; Algerian pop rai; and western rock and pop artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley.
With its disntictive attire, identified as head-scarf-and-robe-wearing group (consciously chosen clothes of desert exotics), the band was noted by music-buffs the world over for the voices on segregation, exile and identity. But the credit goes to the distinctive musical style of the band beyond the revolutionary themes and contents.
Let Grammies come and go. The band is more concerned about the issues out of which it rose like a pheonix than its very popularity and accolades. Eyadou ag Leche says:
“The Tuaregs want independence. This is nothing new. We’ve wanted this since the French have left. For thirty years we have big problems: we don’t have hospitals, schools… We don’t feel Malian. We live under the same [Mali] flag, but we don’t consider ourselves true Malians. (…) The coup in Mali serves us because the people will start looking at Mali. They will direct their attention to Mali and see what’s happening there. People will start to understand Mali’s reality. Many people knew what was happening there but closed their eyes to it. (…) From Timbuktu to Gao, the border between Niger and Algeria … that is our country, that is our territory, that is where our families live. That belongs to us. We’re not colonizing anything; we have been colonized ourselves.”
They want people hear these words on exile when they buy each and every album of the band.
The Radio Tisdas Sessions: 2001
Listen all tracks  at

Amassokul :2004
Listen all tracks at
Aman Iman: 2007
Listen all tracks at
Imadiwan 2009
Listen all tracks at
Tassili 2011

Listen the purview track at

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