To most of us the desert looks to be an inhospitable land, devoid of life. You wouldn't think that anything could survive out there let alone humans and their herds of goats and camels. Yet for generations that's exactly what the Tuareg people have done in the Northern Sahara desert. In a territory that stretches from present day Algeria in the north to what is now Niger in the south, they have moved with their flocks from watering hole to watering hole, and followed the changing of the seasons in search of grazing land for their herds.
It was the coming of the colonial masters that began the troubles for the Tuareg. They created the borders that divided the desert into artificial segments. However the end of colonial rule in the early 1960s didn't do anything to improve their lot and 1963 saw the first of the Tuareg uprisings. The government of Niger began a systematic campaign of terror and persecution against the Tuareg, and they responded by taking up arms against them. However, they were ill equipped to combat a modern army, and many were forced to flee to the north. Among those refugees was a young Ibrahim Ag Ahabib, whose memories of the trek include his grandfather dying on the forced march.
Like many young Tuareg of that generation, Ahabib, were involved in the next Tuareg uprising in the 1980s. However it wasn't only a gun he learned how to use in the training camps of Libya where the Tuareg received their training. He, and others, began to play guitar, and give voice to the dreams and aspirations of the rebellion through songs. Mixing popular music from the west, specifically the guitar driven music of Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana, with their people's traditional sound, they recorded cassettes of music that were distributed throughout the Tuareg territories. While the governments of Niger and Mali quickly made their music illegal, it didn't stop the messages of hope and pride from being spread among the people. While he has long since put down his gun to focus on his music, Ahabib and the band he leads, Tinariwen, continue to sing about the life of the Tuareg, only now their audience has expanded to include the rest of the world.
On their latest release, Imidiwan: Companions on the World Village out October 13, 2009, they have also included a DVD containing a documentary about the making of the recording, directed by Jessy Nottola. Up until now Tinariwen have had to travel to Europe in order to make their CDs, but this time they were able to ensure that the recording studio came to them. As a result the film isn't just of musicians setting up in some arid studio to record tracks, it follows the band to some of their favourite places in the Malian part of the Sahara desert. These are places where they have sat, played, and sung to the desert and the stars throughout the night in the past. The places where the heart and soul of not only the music, but also, the Tuareg, reside.