On Nov. 10, Grand Central will host Tinariwen, a veritable blood diamond in the rough of world music. Founded by Mali native Ibrahim Ag Alhabib in the late ’70s, Tinariwen is a music collective of Tuareg people, a nomadic sect of villagers in the North African region of the Sahara Desert. Their music explores and blends native protest music, West African guitar, Middle Eastern pop, traditional Mali music, and traditional American rock and roll.
To recap Tinariwen’s history is to venture into the chaos of the region. Having witnessed his father’s execution at age 4, Ag Alhabib spent his childhood in Malian refugee camps before roaming in exile with fellow Tuaregs in Algeria and Libya. While in exile, Ag Alhabib joined forces with other Tuareg musicians to entertain their people. In 1980, (former?) President Muammar al-Gaddafi implored all young Tuareg men living illegally in Libya to join his desert army, an invitation that Ag Alhabib and other musicians accepted.
In 1985, Ag Alhabib joined another call to arms, this time from a Tuareg rebel movement. In the movement, Ag Alhabib met his future Tinariwen collaborators and began recording music on cassette tapes that eventually circulated throughout the Saharan region. The collective moved back to Ag Alhabib’s native Mali in 1989, where several band members joined the Tuareg rebel uprising against the Malian government. After two years of fighting and a peace agreement, Tinariwen, for the first time ever, was able to concentrate full time on music.
Tinariwen made its first recording outside of North Africa with The Radio Tisdas Sessions in 2001. The collective’s fifth album, Tassili, due out on Aug. 30th, features Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, who traveled to Algeria to record with the band, Wilco’s Nels Cline, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
The utter improbability of a roving band of Tuareg musicians landing in downtown Miami should be enough to get you to the show, which is a Rhythm Foundation production. If not, “Tenere Taqqim Tossam”, the Adebimpe-Malone collaboration off of Tassili, ought to do the trick.