These grizzly looking men, swaddled in their tagelmousts, were once part of the Touareg rebellion. They laid down their arms only to pick them up again, but this time it was the Touareg guitar, as they fired volleys of melodic notes in Tamasheq. They sang of Assouf, exile and loneliness, in their own unique style redolent of the Berber harmonies of Algeria.
When I first heard ‘Aldhechen manin’ from their second album, Amassakoul, Tinariwen’s poetry came across like a plaintive cry from the Sahel, agonizing murmurs from the very depths of the drying earth. Their cries speak of Assouf, of everything that lies out in the darknesss, in vast stretches of desolation; a cry that epitomizes the darkness that has besieged Northern Mali.
Tired, I’m tired of searching for that which is not.
I search and I ask God. How can I fall asleep and wake up without memories, without suffering
The spirit free, like someone in love. In life we only follow love and then we run after it until it disappears, after a bend, buried like a lost truth
Since birth I have lived like that and since the first day of my life, I walk, the memory of a love in my head, in my heart and in my bones
The Harmattan blows across the Sahel, on a rampage of desertification, aided by human accomplices, who for years have been scouring pasture for cattle that are barely surviving the worst drought in decades. There is many an exodus from villages; people extricating themselves from famine, guardians of the faith and debilitating poverty while weapon brandishing disaffected youth threaten divine and human retribution for disobeying the Sharia. The Harmattan raises dust and sand, can reduce the visibility and render the haze as thick as fog, and in the case of Northern Mali, thick enough to affect visions of a future, impervious enough to impair judgement, as extremists attack brick by brick the relenting inorganic facades of edifices.
Mali invites tourists to plant trees perhaps as a ruse to arrest the onslaught of the desert. Mali invites generous international aid. Mali invites people to their Festival au desert which showcases the talents of various musical ensembles as well as Touareg music.
But now it has come to pass that many a destitute starving Northern Malian, is trying to find escape, succour and refuge in camps, all the while heaving a collective sigh in the words of Tinariwen,’ tired, I am tired of searching for that which is not’.