July 25, 2012 - 9:30 pm


Winners of the 2012 Best World Music Grammy Award, Tinariwen are a truly spellbinding live act. They’ve built up an international following for their catchy fusion of desert blues with the styles of the Tuareg people of the Sahara. Even if you don’t speak their language, the mysticism and the power of their message will translate through their hypnotic beats and grooves: you’ll be dancing the night away.

Tinariwen is a group of Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali. With a continuously evolving lineup it’s closer to a large family of musicians or to a vast cultural and musical movement than to a typical band.

In the 1980s, Ibrahim, Abdallah, Hassan, ‘Japonais’ and Kheddou began to play together in and around the town of Tamanrasset in southern Algeria. They would perform at weddings, baptisms or just simple youthful get-togethers. During the long period of instability and war in Mali, their songs helped broadcast the message of the rebel movement that set out to promote the rights of nomadic people suffering under the arbitrary policies of repressive and distant central governments. When peace was signed in 1994, their demobilization coincided with profound changes in the way of life of those desert people, whose traditions had been irrevocably upended by years of drought and sedentarisation. Such calamities forced many young Kel Tamashek – the people who speak Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg – into exile. Tinariwen became the spokespeople of a generation that looked on helplessly as its world slowly crumbled. It was in the embers of this social trauma, which remains just as precarious today, that Tinariwen caught fire and went global.

The group first started to gain a following outside the Sahara region in 2001, with the release of The Radio Tisdas Sessions, and the performances at Festival au Désert in Mali and at the Roskilde festival in Denmark. Their popularity rose internationally with the release of the critically acclaimed Amassakoul in 2004. The group, losing some of its original members and gaining new ones along the way, became a professional unit that toured the world, headlining at various important festivals including the Eurockéennes de Belfort in France, Glastonbury in the UK and Coachella in the US.

International media have often associated them with just one image: that of Tuareg rebels leading the charge, machine gun in hand and electric guitar slung over the shoulder. The band ditch this cliché on their fifth album Tassili and it’s for the best. The founding members abandoned their weapons long ago and on this new album they have engineered a minor aesthetic revolution by setting the electric guitar – the instrument which became their mascot and made them famous – to one side and giving pride of place to acoustic sounds, recorded right in the heart of the desert, which is the landscape of their existence, the cradle of their culture and the source of their inspiration. You might even call this radical move a return to the very essence of their art, a return which, paradoxically, has also opened the doors to some intriguing collaborations with members of TV On The Radio, Nels Cline (Wilco’s guitarist) or The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Their albums Aman Iman (2007) and Imidiwan (2009) were eulogized by the media and attracted the praises of Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Thom Yorke, Brian Eno or Carlos Santana, with whom Tinariwen performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006. Four years later, Tinariwen took part in the opening concert of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Released in 2011, Tassili won the Award for Best World Music Album at the 54th Grammy Awards in February 2012. This success and recognition did not alter their spirit and their enthusiasm. They continue to play sold-out venues across the world, in some cases in front of crowds of over 40,000 people (opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers during their last tour…). They are truly a spellbinding live act and their music should be experienced in concert. Even if you don’t speak their language, the mysticism and the fury of their message will translate through their hypnotic beats and grooves. Totally entranced, their audience in Byblos will dance the night away!


  • 2001 – The Radio Tisdas Sessions
  • 2004 – Amassakoul
  • 2007 – Aman Iman
  • 2009 – Imidiwan
  • 2011 – Tassili