Today's RED Hearts Update: Entertainment
Beautiful Rebel Music
by Zoe Mendelson, 24, reporting from Brooklyn, NY, on a band she loves so much it sounds like she's lying
The Tuaregs, an ancient nomadic tribe that inhabits the Sahara and North Africa, are known as the fiercest of fighters. You may have seen them in movies—usually as bands of men with scarves around their heads who rob the good guys in the desert.
They also happen to make the most radically peaceful and elegant music I have ever heard.
Tinariwen is a Tuareg band that formed in 1979 around campfires in tents at refugee settlements and has recently gained recognition on the world stage. (Their latest album, Emaar, came out last week.) The most accurate description of their sound I’ve found is “a cross between Fela Kuti and the Velvet Underground.” Quite the appealing hybrid, right?
Scripted into Gadaffi’s mercenary army in 1980, the musicians went on to become leaders of the Tuareg rebel movement in Libya in 1985, and then another rebel movement in Mali in 1990. They would record their “rebel music” for anyone who brought a blank cassette tape to their makeshift studio. Through these homemade tapes, they spread their politically subversive messages about the plight of the Tuareg all over North Africa—eventually attracting international attention.
As much as their music is important, it’s incredibly calming, too. It lowers my blood pressure but it’s definitely not boring. The only way I can describe it is that it’s shockingly beautiful. Every single person I’ve introduced to them slips into a Tinariwen trance for a while. My first lasted more than a month. And now that there’s a new album, I’m right back there and never want to leave.
The first album of theirs I heard was Tassili, which they recorded with Tunde Adebimpe, the lead singer of TV on the Radio. It’s a great introduction to their music and their message. These guys are not rock stars—they are rebel fighters and they are musicians. I can’t say too much because it will start to sound like I’m lying. But truly, I’ve never encountered music with such a universal appeal, such a visceral effect on everyone who listens to it. Watching them gives me chills.
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